Irony isn’t intended in Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The White Meadows.” But it’s almost impossible to forget the past year’s events in Iran which become uncomfortably apparent throughout his film, sweeping religion, family and even the sake of art amongst a few mounds of salt.
Rahmat (Hassan Purshirazi) rows throughout Lake Urmia to collect the tears of those mourning, or those about to suffer, so rumored that he can turn them into pearls so they will not be in vain. As he goes from spot to spot, he picks up a boy from one village desperate to find his father, who wandered off some years ago. Their travel leads them to a dwarf who is tasked with carrying jars filled with the whispered anguish of the village down a well to the fairy that lives there; a girl forced to marry the sea itself in a disturbing ritual and a man tortured by his brothers for painting the sea red instead of blue in a drawing.
“Meadows” is rife with metaphor, almost abundantly so: is the dwarf condemned to death due to a deformity by the village elder, or is it merely his turn to go down the well? Is the young girl sacrificed to sea due to her complexion and green eyes, or does it represent youth being thrown away by religious zealots? (Actually, the press notes have an answer for this one, but it doesn’t translate at all in the film.)
Rasoulof’s previous work, “Iron Island,” also brought out a heavy hand when it came to symbolism and reference; in “Meadows,” it swings more to a quiet meditation of what we expect out of a culture that we best know for extremists sending death threats to entertainers if they are slighted in the briefest of ways. Purshirazi’s Rahmat is our quiet foil, at first rowing silently through the sea, even later with companions choosing not to talk to them, as he knows they are going to be condemned in some way.
It’s important to note that Jafar Panahi, who was arrested and detained with Rasoulof and other directors during the 2009 elections in Iran, edited “White Meadows.” It is bittersweet that such a rich film packed with ideas and commentary on misogyny, questions about family and even the tears of a nation that go unchecked is being screened while Panahi is still suffering in jail. He was arrested under the auspice of making an “anti-regime” film.
The only conflict within “White Meadows” is what you won’t get out of it. After all, the child winds up finding his father (in a way) while the artist is punished for seeing color differently. Yet in the final segment, as Rahmat’s benefactor is revealed to be nothing more than a frail old man in a wheelchair, the scene has all the power of a falling coffee cup or figuring out the name was in fact the sled.