The Movie Waffler First Look Review - YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS | The Movie Waffler


Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness review
A young woman, convicted of murdering her husband, has her fate decided by the victim’s family on a live television programme.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Massoud Bakhshi

Starring: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Babak Karimi, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Forough Ghajabagli, Arman Darvish

Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness poster

Suddenly, cancel culture (at least in the West) doesn’t look like a real thing anymore. In Massoud Bakshi’s Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness, the literal court of public opinion is used to decide between life or actual death. In this gripping drama, a woman named Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) convicted of the murder of her significantly older husband must face his daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) on a live television show and have her fate decided by Mona’s will to forgive her, while millions of viewers share their own verdicts by SMS votes.

Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness review

An immaculately dressed host (Arman Darvish) manages the function, encouraging the best contributions out of the subjects through direct questions. He is considerate that snap judgements can’t be made within an hour, and thus allows for breaks filled in by invited pop musicians who perform their latest hits. It’s as much of a tabloid talk show as one can be, except it determines whether an individual is sentenced to death or not, all under the accord of Iran’s judicial system. And the wildest part of this film is that it’s entirely based on reality - it’s a replica of an existing Iranian TV programme called Mah-e-Asal.

Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness review

Bakshi directs the story from a ubiquitous perspective, cutting between the talk show, the crew working hard to ensure the production is smooth running, family members backstage reacting to the dialogue between Mona and Maryam, and the two leads anxiously waiting around whenever there’s a pause in the broadcast. The value of dramatising an episode of Mah-e-Asal allows for a closer, fascinating examination of characters, highlighted by off-stage moments such as when Mona calls her friend and angrily expresses how she really feels about Mona, and huge revelations around children.

The heightened reality of TV programming is offset by the director’s commitment to staying grounded for the meta narrative: Bakshi doesn’t employ any of the exaggerated music that the producers of the fictionalised Mah-e-Asal employ, he’s sensitive with the dramatic twists, and he doesn’t lose sight of the intimate focus on Mona and Maryam, especially when there’s spectacle to be mined out of the producers’ efforts to ensure there aren’t any issues behind the scenes. However, even though the filmmaker is fit to tell the story, it’s the actors who make it so powerful.

Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness review

Asgari and Jafari are almost polar opposites in how they perform as Maryam and Mona, respectively. The former plays Maryam at fever pitch, a boiling point before the potential hysteria of learning she’s going to lose her life. But during key moments of the episode’s development, Asgari surprises us by lapsing into silence, accentuating her character’s emotional journey more than words could. On the other hand, Jafari’s Mona is hard to read with her numbed expressions until she gets closer to realising the colossal impact of an eye for an eye, a costly idea according to her lawyer. Both performances are deeply sympathetic, complicating the dilemma of forgiveness that we know too well through the average revenge narrative. No amount of blood money can bring somebody back... is it worth pursuing the cost of another life?

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness is in US virtual cinemas now. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews