Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness Image

To say the least, the ordeal is very dramatic, but the film stands its ground, and, unlike its characters, stay focused with an eye on the bigger picture. There are red herring here and there, but ultimately the audience will be unable to predict Mona’s verdict or her motives up until the third act. And even in the end, things appear unresolved as everybody is plotting their next moves, and we can foresee an unlikely but possible sequel of sorts.

Yalda, a Night for Forgivenessmight start softly, leaving viewers unsure what it is, but very quickly, it becomes fascinating and engaging akin to watching a game where we have to discern the truth. It is actually strange, though quite disturbing in hindsight, to think of it this way, considering real events inspire the story. It could easily pass as a neo-dystopian yet grounded drama, replete with eerie Black Mirror gloom & doom vibes. All set in a future where inmates sentenced to death could be granted pardon on live TV or reduced from hanging to a few years behind bars. Meanwhile, the accuser would take money instead of justice because, as a prosecutor in the film declared: ‘An eye for an eye is very costly.’ 

The performance by Sadaf Asgari is stupendous, she really goes all-in with all the emotional sequences. Even when she is not speaking. Just a few seconds after she is just introduced, Asgari manages to capture the woman she portrays and her whole state of anxiety with her eyes.

“..surprisingly universal as well, delving into concepts of forgiveness and compassion versus revenge…”

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness might feel like it is overreaching at some points, especially with the behavior of Mona or Maryam’s mothers. But the unscripted TV vibes emanating from it show real emotions. Sadly such genuineness will always be heightened exponentially or dumbed down because that’s what the people want.

Although the film is not flawless and, at times, questionable directorial choices were made, it is an impressive feature. The intensity is almost non-stop and peaking in a frantic car chase scene echoing the mysterious aerial opening shots. It is a true contemporary Iranian film and explores many complex issues that could make for a finer viewing with prior knowledge of the situation and culture. However, it is surprisingly universal as well, delving into concepts of forgiveness and compassion versus revenge and maybe greed when it comes to Jafari’s character.

But one shall remember, and is wisely reminded of toward the end, despite appearances, the villain of the story is not Mona, neither Maryam, but the system, the exploitative nature of the media, and, of course, the patriarchal society. Additionally, Yalda, a Night for Forgivenessis making a valuable comment about women’s rights and humanity (stupid) appetite for being entertained by shows feasting of one’s misery no matter where in the world.

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness (2020)

Directed and Written: Massoud Bakhshi

Starring: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Babak Karimi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Forough Ghajebeglou, Fereshteh Hosseini, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness Image

"…despite appearances, the villain of the story is...the exploitative nature of the media, and, of course, the patriarchal society."

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