Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness gets its name from an Iranian winter solstice festival. Presumably, there are many normal ways to celebrate that holiday. Its religious celebrants can forgive each other on a micro, personal level. But this film shows a not so normal way to celebrate. That way involves a TV show where producers pull someone out from death row. In doing so, a person guilty of a crime can receive forgiveness from their victim or that victim’s relative. Here, that guilty party is Maryam (Sadaf Asgari), who experiences strong emotions while undergoing this public, sadistic ritual.
Iranian filmmaker Massoud Bakhshi spotlights this aspect of his national culture and how modernity affects that culture. And he tries to do this through a few moving pieces. The first, obviously, Maryam, who has to face capital punishment, pronounced guilty for killing her husband. Then there’s that husband’s daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari). And there’s Anar (Fereshteh Hosseini), a woman with a secret connection to the two. Notice this mostly female cast depicting a country that’s presumably and probably patriarchal. And there’s a telling scene in which Amar tries to talk to an actress serving as the show’s (Faghiheh Soltani).
Bakhshi shows that scene between Amar and that actress, the latter assuming that Anar just wants a selfie. Yalda is, at its best, about characters not wanting to air their dirty laundry in public. It subverts this assumption that everyone wants their fifteen minutes. The rest of the film, sadly, doesn’t explore that interesting theme. Instead, its interest lies more on that dirty laundry, which both parties should have aired during Maryam’s trial. This whole ritual feels redundant. Maryam’s story and motives also feel very inconsistent and the show’s host has no interest in interrogating her about it.
Maryam says that she never wanted to marry Mona’s father, Nasser Zia. But she also says that she wanted a permanent marriage. No one calls her out on this because the show hinges on her forgiveness. It’s understandable that Bakhshi made this for Iranian audiences. But there are missing pieces here now that it’s available in the West. His film doesn’t explain that her forgiveness is a social expectation. A Western version of this show would make forgiveness a variable. Anyway, Maryam changes her tune again from wanting to tell her side of the story to wanting forgiveness.
That tune change comes from a reveal which finally involves Anar into the story. And that’s not the only twist here. What’s worse is how Bakhshi’s screenplay lets these female characters deal with these twist. Most of Yalda‘s characters deal with these twist by crying about them. Again, a viewer’s personal prejudices can seep into perceptions about this film. But what started out as a behind the scenes film turns into a bad example of melodrama. A woman crying because of an oppressive world is quite understandable, but after the hour mark, the tears become unbearable.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Drama
- Release Date: 12/11/2020
- Directed by: Massoud Bakhshi
- Starring: Babak Karimi, Behnaz Jafari, Faghiheh Soltani, Fereshteh Hosseini, Sadaf Asgari
- Produced by: Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Jacques Bidou, Joëlle Bertossa, Marianne Dumoulin
- Written by: Massoud Bakhshi
- Studio: JBA Production, NiKo Film