Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness – The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Category, Sundance 2020
A movie that is 'doomed' to win awards at film festivals
Some movies are made to go to film festivals. And they collect the rewards. Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness - is that kind of movie. Irans director Massoud Bakhshi's movie premiere was at the recently concluded Sundance 2020 Film Festival. It is no coincidence that Sundance 2020 was expected, as an ideal place to break into the international film scene. Sundance's policy is to focus on artistic and somewhat non-commercial films. Strong authorial personalities are always welcome at the Sundance Festival, especially if the film has a background even it is shown yet before. This is the case with Iranian director Massoud Bakhshi's second feature film, which has been in disgrace of the regime since its debut - A Respectable Family. Which premiered in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes - 2012. After that highly critical film in which he reviewed contemporary Iranian society, Bakhshi was blacklisted in his homeland. This is exactly what I meant when I said that some films attract the attention of world critics and juries at major festivals. Not necessary that these films were made to appealing to critics. There are just some things that even before filming are captured, which get their attention before the movie premieres. Perhaps the best quote is from author Massoud Bakhshi, who tells what happened to him after the first film: “They opened a juridical case against me as a traitor to the country. Many journalists insult me in the press, and even my friends don't want to see or talk to me, ”recalls Bakhshi. "This story of a condemned person is also my personal story.".
The West loves the outcasts. Whether it is political dissidents or artistic disagreements that cause them problems in their homeland. Directors who dissect a society's problems would not be who they are if just quit. And then move to a safer place on the planet. They would lose their edge, their sharpness. They would lose the reason to make movies.
In Tehran, death row inmates get a second chance if the audience sends them support in the popular show ‘The Joy of Forgiveness’ via SMS.
Is there a place on Earth where modern digital societies collide with the Stone Age? It exists in today's Tehran. One of the most popular reality shows is called The Joy of Forgiveness. The show brings convicted individuals who have the opportunity to escape the death penalty. If relatives and the audience watching the show decide so. The very idea that strangers send SMS and decide whether somebody to live or die is perverse. It's not like The Voice, it's someone's life. Or death. It's hard to believe, but it's true.
Young 22-year-old Maryam - starring Sadaf Asgari, was sentenced to death for accidentally killing her husband. And it wasn't anyone. Nasser Zia, her late husband, 65 years old, was a powerful director of a finance company in the Iranian capital. Relatives in the studio are Nasser's daughter, formerly Maryam's best friend, Mona - starring Behnaz Jafari. Mona is not inclined to forgive Maryam for the murder of her father as she believes Maryam married him for money. But the night when the trial takes place a special night, the Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year - Yalda, is a special day for Iranians. It's a night of forgiveness. Families gather, eat, drink and socialize deep into the winter night. Poetry is recited, some love, some religious, forget about conflicts and old disagreements. Will that night be happy for Maryam? It will decide the voters' cell phones behind the small screens. And the emotionally cold Mona.
Director Massoud Bakhshi was not present at Sundance as relations between Iran and the United States were damaged.
A summary written in this way may seem like a well-documented documentary. But is not. Or a rough version of the Jerry Springer show. These are profound cultural differences between the West and Islam. What is normal for us in the religious world of Islam is mercy. One thing is for sure, being a feminist in the West is not the same as being a woman in the Islamic world. But is it that hard to believe? Only 40 years ago, in rural areas in the Balkans, women called their husbands - Bosses. If a man came and the Boss wasn't home, he had to come back when Boss was home. The economic independence of women is a little more recent than we thought. We just forgot.
It is not difficult to assume that director Massoud Bakhshi's film won another prize at film festivals. The year is long, and the movie is made for that. For awards. The beginning is promising. The Sundance Prize will open the door for him. The quality of the film itself remains. Cinema life is only partially offset by the rewards. And we wish director Massoud Bakhshi to personally come to the promotion of the next film in Sundance or Cannes. He was not at the promotion of the film at Sundance. Reason? Damaged Iran-US relations.