Ballad Of A White Cow (2020)

Quick synopsis: An Iranian woman (Maryam Moqadam) learns that her husband was actually innocent of the crime he was executed for. She’s not very happy about this.

This film will infuriate you. When you find out that the man executed was actually innocent it will make you want to tear your hair out. This is a great example of why I’m anti-execution btw. I’ve had this discussion with people and I’ve offered this sentence:

“Make executions legal, but have everybody who supports it on a list. If it’s discovered that someone was executed wrongfully, or if there’s a small piece of doubt about it, someone on the list gets killed”

Usually, that’s met with “but that’s not fair, you can’t kill people who didn’t do anything”, by people who are completely missing the irony. Plus if they’re so certain that only the guilty will be executed, they’d have no problem with it because they’d know for sure they’re safe. Once you perform that act, you can’t take it back, and that’s what this film is about. No matter what happens, the mans death can never be reversed.

Not that much is happening anyway. The people who sentenced him to death tell his widow “Nothing we can do, it is gods will”. “we can’t deny people their rights. The death penalty is a human right”. “The prophet himself made a judgement”, no, he didn’t. You did. It must be nice to have that level of faith which allows you to ignore culpability. That’s how problems don’t get solved, when people don’t take responsibility for their decisions. There is one person who seems to care, Reza (played by Alirez Sanifar), who seems to realise how shitty a situation it is. He was the judge who sentenced her husband to death. It was his first death sentence and it turned out to be wrong. You can tell he is wracked with guilt over this, and is trying to do everything he can to fix it, but knowing there’s nothing he can do.

It’s harrowing to watch her so beaten down because of her gender. She gets made homeless because she has a man in her house. Landlords won’t rent to her because she’s a single woman, putting her in the same category as junkies. It’s ugly, it’s horrible, and it’s far too true.

The ugliness extends to the look. Not in an “eww this was really badly made” way, but if I had to describe it as a colour I would say “grey”. It’s a very washed out film, and that perfectly suits the tone and the story. The lead, Maryam Moqadam, co-directed this with Behtash Sanaeeha (better known for 2014’s Risk Of Acid Rain). It’s not often you get co-directed films (he says, a few weeks after watching and reviewing one), and to their credit it never feels disjointed in terms of style. The whole thing does feel like it belongs to one voice.

There is a slight warmness to the whole thing at times. Despite what it may seem, this is not a story about loss, or revenge. It’s a story of human perseverance, about the strength people find in adversity.

This strength, as well as the pain, is filtered through Moqadam’s character, Mina. She carries a heavy burden, the film rests upon her shoulders, and she carries it wonderfully. There’s a scene near the end which best demonstrates this. I’ll explain the lead-up first. She meets a stranger who claims to be a friend of her husband, the aforementioned Reza. He’s decided to ease his guilt by turning up at her house, saying he owes her husband some money, so he’ll give it to her.

Sadly, this act of kindness ends up getting her evicted (for having an unrelated male in the house), but she never mentions it to him. She hides it from him out of kindness for him. Because she doesn’t want him to feel guilty. So when she finds out who he really is, she feels doubly betrayed. She just sits in her car seething, not saying a single word, she doesn’t need to; her face says everything. It’s a masterclass in both performance and directing. That scene alone makes this worth watching, but watch the rest too as it’s well worth your time. In most other countries, this would be a film of anger and violence, in this it’s just despair. She can’t win, she’s utterly helpless, a victim of the world she lives in. It sucks, and it’s depressing, but it’s also very compelling to watch.