Bloody great movie!
Zalava is about a small village in Iran in 1978 which everyone is convinced is under attack by demons. Set before the Revolution, the village of Zalava is in Kurdistan, and home to a community of settled gypsies. There superstition and belief in demons rules.
Massoud, a sergeant in the local gendarme, decides to confiscate the villagers weapons, as the trusted method for checking if someone is possessed is shooting them in the leg. This is his first mistake, and it kicks off the plot of the whole film. Demons are supposedly afraid or put off by metal, so a bullet in the leg will send them packing. But with the guns taken by the sergeant, the villagers have to corner the possessed girl armed with sickles, and in her fear, she backs away over a ledge, and falls to her death.
The death of the girl enflames the villagers even more, and gives Massoud a sense of responsibility for setting the situation right. When he discovers a charismatic exorcist called Amardan is in the village, he becomes convinced the man is a charlatan, stoking the hysteria for profit. He promptly arrests him and takes him, and the jar he claims contains a trapped demon into custody.
First things first, this film is gorgeous. Like, guh-hor-geous! The colour, the use of the light, everything just makes it beautiful to watch. Loved it!
Zalava is about the power of belief. Massoud underestimates this power, believing that logic and reason will eventually bring people to their senses. How often have you seen that working?
There are plenty of hints at a reasonable explanation for what is happening in Zalava. There is a doctor in town who is investigating a condition that is causing the villagers to develop white patches on their skin and hair. She is struggling to complete her research and discover the cause because of the commotion caused by the hysteria. So far, all she knows is the villagers’ test results show unusually high adrenaline levels. So maybe their condition or disease is causing an excessive production of panic hormones, which is causing their behaviour to become irrational.
Another possibility is the land Zalava sits on is coveted by a dam construction company, and it just so happens Amardan used to work for that company. Now here he is, scaring the shit out of people, til they’re so terrified they’re willing to leave or shoot each other.
But equally the villagers have their own interpretation, seeing their white patches as signs of affliction from a source of evil. They consider the fact that Amardan left a well-paying job at a dam company for a life protecting poor people from demons as a sign that he is on their side. Besides, the dam construction has been plagued with problems, which the villagers attribute to Amardan directing the cast-out demons towards the dam.
Zalava is a horror film. Folk won’t say that coz it’s so gorgeous, they’ll want to call it a human drama, but that’s what it is. It is a film about the dark and destructive nature of man, and whether the demon is real or not, the damage its idea evokes is.
As I say, Zalava is about the power of belief, but not just for the villagers. Massoud believes too much in nothing, he is too sure that the invisible can’t hurt him, and too unrelenting in his insistence on it. For those who think what you can’t see can’t hurt you, watching Zalava you will find out different.