70th Berlin International Film Festival: Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness Review

It took a while for Iranian cinema to come to light, nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any works worth paying attention to. With Abbas Kiarostami, Rakhshān Banietemad, Bahram Beyzai, Dariush Mehrjui, and Asghar Farhadi paving the way for worldwide recognition, Iranian cinema became a frequent ‘guest’ at many prestigious film festivals. Although Iran is known for its misogynistic culture and patriarchal society, a few filmmakers have been highlighting the lives of women in modern Iran and its archaic traditions in an interesting way, and Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness, written and directed by Massoud Bakhshi, is one of those films.


Photo © Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness

Maryam (Sadaf Asgari), a 22-year-old woman, is brought to a TV studio in handcuffs. There, the viewer learns that she is awaiting a death sentence for killing her 65-year-old husband Nasser, and is about to participate in The Joy of Forgiveness, a show where one can seek absolution for the crimes they have committed. As Iran lives by the Code of Hammurabi, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, an integral part of the Islamic law, only the victim’s family, if they’re willing to forgive, can stop the execution.

Maryam, who somehow looks like a teenager rather than a young woman, is agitated and stressed, but not very concerned about diplomacy. However, it is her mother (Fereshteh Sadre Orafaee) who is desperate for Maryam to look her best on TV and pushes her hard to at least try to convince others, including her husband’s daughter, Mona (Behnaz Jafari), that she should be spared the death penalty. One might show some pity over Maryam’s situation, but she is not a character that one can easily sympathize with. Mona remains a decidedly ambivalent figure, who presents herself as an ‘older sister’ to Maryam, but is now faced with the possibility of forgiving her father’s murderer. 


Photo © Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness

Massoud Bakhshi leaves the big question, whether Maryam survives and Mona forgives, until the end. The director cleverly plays with his characters’ feelings as well as the ones of the audience and keeps his viewers engaged until the last minute with his classic court/trial drama’ film.

Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness with its believable narrative also exposes contemporary Iranian society and women’s role in the patriarchal culture. Bakhshi shows that there is no room for favouritism of Mona nor Maryam, and that the world they live in is cruel enough for any ordinary woman in Iran. The plot and dialogue demand that the audience pays attention to every word and every action. Furthermore, Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness is full of powerful performances; Sadaf Asgari and Behnaz Jafari, even without speaking, are able to build tension flawlessly by giving the viewer a different sense of what Iranian cinema can be, and how talented its actors are. The claustrophobic feeling of the television studio adds to the tension created by the actors’ stunning performances and the narrative itself. 


Photo © Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness

Yalda – A Night For Forgiveness is timely work from Massoud Bakhshi, who delves into his characters’ minds and meticulously analyzes Maryam and Mona’s motivations as well as those involved in the show. Yalda is a gripping and well-crafted film that might appeal to many, and it’s surely worth any film-goer’s attention.

Rating: image-2

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Julia Litwinowicz

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