It may be at times contrived and slow-moving, but this Iranian drama about the impact of a wrongful state execution on a family accumulates enough power to work.
Dir. Maryam Moghadam & Behtash Sanaeeha
2021 | Iran | Drama | 105 mins | 1.85:1 | Persian
Not rated – likely to be PG13
Cast: Maryam Moghadam, Alireza Sani Far, Pouria Rahimi Sam
Plot: Mina’s life is turned upside down when she learns that her husband was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, so she starts a silent battle against a cynical system for her own and her daughter’s sake.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
International Sales: Totem Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Injustice, Gender, Society
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
As one critic put it, if it had been a short film, Ballad of a White Cow would have snugged comfortably as a segment in Mohammad Rasoulof’s four-parter There Is No Evil (2020).
Both are Iranian films about the human impact of capital punishments, and coincidentally, they both competed at the Berlinale, albeit in different editions.
I enjoyed Ballad more; it’s less meandering but still slow in terms of pacing. But the drama unfolds quite compellingly under the hands of co-directors Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha, who also served as co-writers. Mina, a mother to a deaf child, is faced with irreversible change when her husband is executed by the state for murder.
However, sometime later, she receives the news from the authorities that the execution was erroneous and her husband innocent.
“So a mistake has been made and we are very sorry about it.”
It’s a distressing scenario for the character, excellently played by Moghadam herself, who must control her rage against the sheer injustice and find a way to move on with life.
Ballad of a White Cow may at times feel contrived with one too many subplots forced in, but it accumulates enough power by its artfully-conceived denouement to deliver a strong human story of a family, fractured as it is, living in continuous flux.
While it isn’t a political film by any measure as far as its anti-death penalty theme is concerned, the film, like many from the Middle Eastern region, does bemoan the plight of women in a society still deeply rooted in traditional social norms that favour men.