Dir: Maryam Moghadam, Behtash Saneaeeha | Cast: Maryam Moghadam, Alireza Sani Far, Pouria Rahimi Sam, Avin Poor Raoufi | Iran/France, Drama 105′
Black clothed women make their way mournfully through grim corridors in this doleful drama from Iranian filmmaker Maryam Moghadam who also plays the main character Mina. It could be medieval times but this is modern day Iran, a million miles away from the thriving colourful capital it was during the 1970s. The film paints a dour fate for women, now at the bottom of the scrap heap, dogs don’t even get a look in, while men hold sway in modern attire, smoking and drinking tea together. And you can go to the cinema.
But like its deeply-religious Western counterpart Texas, Iran still carries the death penalty. Mina (Moghadam who co-directs with Saneaeeha) is distraught because her husband Babak is condemned to death for a crime he did not commit in a miscarriage of justice. Thus begins Mina’s fight for the truth in a tense modern parable.
Ballad of a White Cow is social realism at the coal face, a restrained and thoughtful second feature fraught with hand-ringing introspection contemplating justice and the plight of women in a broken system, down on its knees and dominated by red tape, religious dogma and a corrupt judicial. And with an unexpected sting in the tail. Elegantly framed in long takes the dour monochrome monotony shows Tehran as a a grey place where Mina works in a factory to support her mute daughter Bita. Meanwhile Babak’s brother wants custody of the little girl and his father has her thrown out of their home.
Then along comes wealthy businessman Reza (Sani Far) who has friends in high places and takes pity on Mina offering her a lovely bright flat even helping her to move in. But Reza is a dark horse and Mina’s crisis is far from over. Just when Reza comes into her life with friendship it transpires he has problems of his own erupting during a spring storm and adding a welcome touch of drama, Mina rushing to his rescue, only to discover Bita is also in trouble. And then bad penny Babak’s brother is back.
Moghadam is simply staggering as a put upon woman struggling to do her best for her friends and family, clearly she needs help of her own, and we feel for her. There’s a wonderfully thoughtful scene where she opens her heart to Reza in a subtle display of vulnerability, but it falls on deaf ears. What could she expect? The finale comes like a bolt from the blue. MT
IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 10 FEBRUARY 2022