Navid Pourfaraj, Pouria Rahimi Sam, Baset Rezaei and Hoda Zeynolabedin
1978, in a small village called Zalava, villagers claim that a demon is among them. A young sergeant who investigates the claim crosses paths with an exorcist attempting to evict the demon from the village.
Zalava is written by Arsalan Amiri and Ida Panahandeh, with Amiri also helming the film, making his directorial debut. It is 1978, in the wake of the Iranian revolution. Young sergeant Massoud has been summoned to the remote Iranian-Kurdish village of Zalava with the assignment to banish a demon. The village is inhabited by former nomads who are united in their strong superstitious beliefs. However Massoud doesn’t believe in such things and he arrests the self-declared exorcist Amardan, which turns the whole community against him. To regain the villager’s trust – and, in particular, that of Maliheh, a state doctor whom he is in love with – Massoud sets out to save the village, when the next emergency call comes in. However, the frantic villagers aren’t that easily reassured.
I’m not familiar with Arsalan Amiri’s work (he has written several screenplays up to making his directorial debut), but I must say I was not only impressed with how he shot a number of the sequences and how beautifully shot they were, but also with his writing in how characters interacted with one another. Amiri builds such tension with an object, in this case being what appears to be an empty jar, but in the eyes of exorcist Amardan and the villagers it contains a demon that was extracted from one of their own. Massoud however is not really cynical of the villagers superstitions, he outright believes it’s all nonsense and that it’s a con by Amardan, exploiting and profiting off the villagers belief’s and fears. The conversations between the two are engaging, as Massoud attempts to twist the answers that Amardan gives him about his exorcism practices, particularly in quizzing not only why he doesn’t charge for his services, but if he did, how much would he? However the primary focus becomes the jar and who possesses it and with a lot of long sequences, Amiri certainly builds the tension and suspense as the audience is made to pay attention to the jar’s, just building the anticipation for something to happen.
While the paranoia of the villagers, misplaced or not, leads to a number of comedic laughs, it becomes no laughing matter when we get to the final act and the final moments of the film will certainly stick with me for quite some time. Navid Pourfaraj gives a commanding performance as Massoud, a person of authority who is questioned by those whose faith and customs he doesn’t acknowledge nor believe in, though the reasoning behind his apprehensiveness towards their beliefs makes him a more complex character. While Pourfaraj is more stoic here, Pouria Rahimi Sam is much more animated as the self-declared exorcist Amardan, giving just as good of a performance as a man the audience is still trying to decipher whether he is legit or a con-man. Hoda Zeynolabedin also gives a good performance as Maliheh, the doctor who is assigned to try and find out the medical reasoning behind the ones that are or have been ‘possessed’ in Zalava.
I’m not familiar with Arsalan Amiri’s previous work, but if his directorial debut is anything to go by, he’s definitely one to keep an eye on going forward. Zalava is a good, slow-burn of a film that lands the ending.