Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Massoud Bakhshi's YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS offers a nasty new look at Iran as television, tradition and truth collide

From its opening aerial view of what (I am guessing) must be Tehran, YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS (among the clunkier movie titles of the year) surprises. Surely this can't be Iran, TrustMovies wondered? It looks too sparkling and modern and, well, "western" to qualify for a country of which we keep hearing (not to mention seeing, via the films of Kiarostami, Panahi, Makhmalbaf and Farhadi) things that smack so of repression, the patriarchy writ huge, and utter fundamentalist crap. And if  this new film via writer/director Massoud Bakhshi  packs in enough surprise and coincidence to equal any Hollywood melodrama, it also gives us the kind of entry into certain areas of Iran -- television studios and the sort of shows they produce -- we've not yet seen. Trust me, what we view here rivals any of the shit you'll find on American cable or network TV -- then maybe goes even a step or two further into the zone of all-out hypocrisy and schlock.

Mr. Bakhshi, shown at right, puts us immediately into the middle of things, as various folk arrive to participate in a popular television show geared to the celebration of Yalda, marking the beginning of winter. 

This program is all about forgiveness, and tonight's "case" involves a young woman, Maryam (Sadaf Asgari, above and below), who has killed her much older husband and is now seeking a forgiveness from that dead husband's daughter that will prevent her execution by the state. (Yes, Sharia law is a bit different from the democracy-for-some version that we have here in the USA.)

During the course of the evening (and the show itself, complete with musical numbers, commercials, and beaucoup faux feelings), a few surprises will occur and secrets be revealed on the way to a finale that offers a grain or two of hope, having uncovered quite a bit about class structure and the ongoing plight of women in this particular country.

It seems that daughter, Mona (played by Behnaz Jjafari, above) has her own agenda going, some of which we're made privy to as the movie unfolds. Add to this another couple who appear early on, trying rather desperately to reach the TV show's producer, and a popular actress who is appearing on the show to spout some poetry.

As I say, there is enough melodrama, along with the life-threatening/life-saving central situation, to please lovers of old Hollywood, not to mention new Iran. But there are also enough irony, hypocrisy, betrayals and mixed motives to fill a couple (or more) standard-issue movies. (That's the oh-so-concerned/sleazy host of the TV show, above, played handsome actor, Arman Darvish,)

If I sound less than hugely enthused about Yalda, it is mostly because of how much Mr. Bakhshi has piled in to his movie -- even if much of it is verified as actually taking place in present-day Iran. Yet, the chance to see more about a country that has been demonized for so long and in so many ways by the USA pretty much trumps most of my objections. I think it probably will yours, as well.

From Film Movement, in Iranian with English subtitles and running just 89 minutes, Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness opens in virtual cinemas this Friday, December 11. Click here then scroll down to learn where/how to view it.

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