By Monica Delgado
As with Boy from Heaven, also in official competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Holy Spider is a 100% European production based on an Islamic reality. If in Boy from heaven, the Swede of Egyptian origin Tarik Saleh explores the interior of religious power from its formative levels, in Holy Spider, the Iranian living in Denmark Ali Abbasi formulates a story about a serial killer of sex workers in Mashhad, the second largest city in this Muslim country. Both themes would probably be censored in the countries to which they refer, and that filmmakers with the possibility of making them abroad is an opportunity to discuss issues of social and political fundamentalism (although of course, always with concessions very much in tune with the thematic fashions of the moment in festival spaces like this) and from a moral perspective of the West.
Holy spider is a police thriller governed by three gazes. The first look -which works as an intro- starts from one of the victims, a young prostitute and drug addict who works on the street. We see her with some clients, until she falls into the hands of a serial killer, and because of the context that is announced through some media, we know that she may be the entity that threatens the tranquility of the city. The second look is that of a journalist who arrives from Tehran in order to retrieve information about the case, since dealing with women sex workers, it seems that the local police do not put much emphasis on the investigation. This character embodied by the actress Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, is going to become the catalyst and catalyst of the patriarchal environment, both by the hostile police and by the people who have to investigate to find more clues in the case. And the third look is the one that rests on the actions of the murderer (the theater actor Mehdi Bajestani), who at various times confesses to being an envoy of God and that his criminal work consists of removing those women from the face of the city, sinful and undesirable.
This religious plan that the criminal, known as Holy spider, deals with reconciling with a common sense that justifies the murders in pursuit of moral cleanliness. Several moments, such as that of the journalist arriving at a hotel where she is questioned for staying alone, the act of smoking alone, not wearing a chador or letting her hair show, reconcile with the perspective of a conservative and very religious society that seems indifferent to the facts that women experience as subjects. Therefore, perhaps the most outstanding thing about this film is how Abbasi builds this domestic world conceived for women. When the murderer contacts his victims, takes them to his own house (where he lives with his wife and two daughters) and kills them, there is nothing that could seem strange, since it is the ground where only women can exist under the shelter of a roof and four walls. There is even a moment when, wanting to transfer a victim to a clearing, the murderer ties her body to his to be able to sit her on the motorcycle that he usually uses, sojalá ince the chador that covers everything normalizes it. Social uses that become accomplices of macho cruelty.
Up to this point, the film seems to be a criticism of this system of patriarchal, institutional and social violence, where women are not worth much. However, despite this interest in reporting, Ali Abbasi resorts to a type of unnecessary violence to show the actions of the criminal to murder women, strangling them (just like that final moment where we see the murderer’s reddened face). That is to say, those close-ups where we see the dying faces of the women, who die at the hands of the coldness of a fanatical murderer, are as equal in the balance as that close-up of the criminal after a trial at the hands of the factual power. Thus, all are victims, women and the murderer. With this reductionist logic, it is not necessary to delve too deeply into the analysis of the origin of this violence that Abbasi claims. The ending only corroborates this unnecessary fascination with the abject and distances Abbasi from the achievements within the codes of genre cinema achieved in Border.
Directed by: Ali Abbasi
Screenplay: Ali Abbasi, Afshin Kamran Bahrami
Music: Martin Dirkov
Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen
Cast: Tsar Amir-Ebrahimi, Mehdi Bajestani, Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Mesbah Taleb, Alice Rahimi, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Nima Akbarpour
Production companies: Profile Pictures, ONE TWO Films, Nordisk Film Production, Wild Bunch, Why Not Productions, art France Cinéma.
Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden, 117 min, 2022