Monday, 1 August 2022

Ballad of a White Cow (2021)

It seems that Iranian writer, director and actress Maryam Moghadam was the brains behind this slow-burning drama set in Tehran as she plays the lead role and appears in pretty much every scene. There's some interesting films coming out of Iran these days which teach us much about the culture and social attitudes.

The opening frames have us believe that the film is about a woman who's husband, Babak, is in jail, awaiting execution on Death Row for a crime he didn't commit (even though he's been convinced that he did it, by himself or others). But it's really not so much about that it is an insight into the prejudices and stigma that the wife has to endure at the hand of the authorities and people around her - regardless of how she became a widow.

As it turns out, he was wrongly convicted and the judge who made the mistake is observed throughout the film fighting with his conscience and moral fibre over his error. This character study makes for another thread being weaved through the tale, which ends up with him trying to repay the woman (Mina) and her (deaf) daughter Bita, with money, favours and even housing when the world turns against them. But he didn't reveal who he was to them, rather introduced himself as a friend of her husband's who owed her husband money.

Incident after incident start to envelop her life, much of it to do with the expected role of women in society - the 'second place' they appear to take to men and people's social fear of being seen to be 'siding' with her. At one point, she is evicted from her rented flat because the landlord has seen the judge going into the house, unaccompanied by a relative. Further, it is alleged that she is not a fit mother now, so is dragged through court to fight for her right to keep what's left of her family together.

She is further batted around between government officials as she tries to clear her husband's name and get the authorities to admit their error - instead of writing it off as something that 'must be in (their) god's plan if it happened', evading responsibility. And there we enter into another issue regarding social control and expected behaviour/standards (particularly by/for women). The whole film's message really is about women being totally dependent on men and how the society is set up to not afford them equality. It doesn't openly criticise the social structure through the players, who are all passive to their plight and situation, but merely observes and reports to the viewer.

Moghadam is clearly the best actor here with a quite excellent performance throughout, supported ably by Avin Poor Raoufi (Bita) and Alireza Sani Far as Reza, the wretched judge-in-breakdown. As I say, it's a slow-burner, but keeps you hooked in until the quite unexpected final scenes and outcome. It's tastefully shot with leanings toward arthouse through contemplative cinematography. The setting is hot, dry and dusty inner city mostly and it's all bleakly coloured in whites and greys.

I caught it on Mubi, which seems like the only place to legitimately watch it just now unless you find it at a cinema. Recommended.

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