The tense second feature from Iranian writer-director Massoud Bakhshi feels like an eerie Black Mirror episode.
“You can still participate in our text message competition. Does Maryam Komijani deserve to be forgiven? Text one for yes, two for no.”
What that quote doesn’t reveal is that a “no” majority results in the death penalty.
Yalda – or, to give it it’s full title: Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness (Yalda, La Nuit Du Pardon) – takes place in Tehran over the course of one night, the Persian celebration of the winter solstice. A popular reality TV show, The Joy of Forgiveness, is about to go live, and tonight’s guest is 22-year old Maryam (Sadaf Asgari), a young woman condemned to death. She was in a temporary marriage and now stands accused of her husband’s murder. In front of the camera, millions of avid viewers, and Mona (Behnaz Jafari), her late and much older husband’s resentful daughter, she is supposed to beg for forgiveness. For TV host Omid (Arman Darvish) and his team, it’s a matter of audience ratings; for Maryam, it’s a question of life and death.
This lean, (mostly) single-location drama is the second feature from Iranian writer-director Massoud Bakhshi, and has echoes of an eerily topical Black Mirror episode aimed at criticising our emotional alienation towards our own sense of empathy by the prism of our obsession with reality TV shows. In reality, Yalda directly alludes to a real, popular televised events in Iran, and Bakhshi uses this to craft a strong social commentary. He takes barely veiled shots at the harsh reality of religious codes, Iran’s eye-for-an-eye justice model, and how women are treated in a profoundly patriarchal society. What a shame then that it loses its efficiency in the third act by leaning on heavy melodramatics and some needlessly exhausting shouting matches. The thorny moral and social meditations take a backseat in favour of more contrived denouements, with one late-act twist upping the ante but diluting overall potency. Still, despite its disappointing contrivances, Yalda is to be commended for its boldness and stands up as a well-acted and tense chamber play that will linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.
Yalda (Yalda, La Nuit Du Pardon) / Directed by Massoud Bakhshi (Iran, France, Germany, 2019), with Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Arman Darvish. Starts August 27.