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Friday, 8 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (6) - Barrie Pattison reviews NO DATE, NO SIGNATURE (Vahid Jalilvand, Iran, 2017)

Vahid Jalilvand
Contemporary Iranian cinema is a pretty much unique body of work. No caped crusaders or singing sweethearts here. Whether it’s from the inclination of the makers or demands from above, they rake over their society with a compulsive determination to reveal guilt.

In the Sydney Film Festival, Vahid Jalilvand’s second film the Persian speaking No Date, No Signature/Bedoun- E-Taikh, Bedoun-E - Emzais is a ripe example. 

Dr. Kaveh Nariman (Amir Agha'ee) is tortured by the need to feel he has done the right thing. A traffic accident has him side swipe a motor bike on which Moosa's (Navid Mohammadzadeh) family is traveling at night. He examines their engaging eight-year-old son and tries to make things right with them as everyone calms down. However, events will unravel to create havoc in the lives of all concerned. 

Amir Agha'ee, No Date, No Signature
Dr. Nariman is a solitary individual and his prosperous life is not without stress. He is at odds with a colleague whose autopsies he keeps on querying. The man’s fellow coroner (dignified Hediyeh Tehrani who was in Asghar Farhadi’s Fireworks) does the examination of the accident victim which reveals fatal Ptomaine poisoning. Does this relieve the doctor of responsibility? Should he query his friend’s work? Is Moosa  (Mohammadzadeh understandably got the film’s best notices in a production notable for strong performances) culpable for buying cheap chicken carcasses from the factory back door? Should Nariman have intervened earlier or was he restrained because he was driving with an expired vehicle registration at the time of the incident?

Even when Nariman has taken on the legal burden, his female colleague confronts him over omissions in his court statement.

The way the film ends without a cut back to her, after he has spoken, is one of the things that shows authoritative film making. Notice also the beginning in sharp monochrome which proves to be desaturated colour into which the tones are introduced as the scene runs. 

Particularly striking is the contrast of the modern, ordered hospital (where the women wear hijabs) and the miserable life of Moosa’s family, traveling on the motorbike whose shattered perspex shield identifies it in traffic. Their lives end in the barren cemetery plot at which the ceremony is conducted by a celebrant in plain clothes using a PA system. 

Moosa can only weep in the bare space between the concrete walls. The grim chicken processing plant belongs to that world. These are the impressions we carry away from the film.

In the fake news era these are the most reliable observations we have of contemporary Iran and the film takes on an importance beyond its qualities as dramatic entertainment.

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