Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness | Chicago Reader
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Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness

Apparently there exists in Iran a reality show where people accused of crimes are pardoned upon being publicly forgiven by their victims’ families—this and other, real-life events inspired the basis of writer-director Massoud Bakhshi's grimly labyrinthine social drama, centered on Maryam (Sadaf Asgari), a young woman convicted of killing her older, wealthier husband. The two were temporarily married, a dubious practice in Iran that allows men and women to wed for a prescribed amount of time. Much to her husband’s chagrin, Maryam became pregnant; she then accidentally killed him during a fight about her pregnancy. Two years later, on Yalda, Iran’s winter solstice celebration, Maryam appears on the fictional show Joy of Forgiveness, where her husband’s daughter, Mona (Behnaz Jafari, from Samira Makhmalbaf’s Blackboards [2000] and, more recently, Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces [2018]), has come to decide whether to publicly forgive her. The show also has a voting component, with viewers being asked to weigh in on whether or not Maryam should be forgiven, the prize for which is that the show’s producers will pay the blood money owed to the victim’s family. The film’s plot, however, doesn’t revolve around the conspicuous inanity of such a premise. Bakhshi doesn’t exploit the odious practice or criticize it; rather, the story is a drudgingly straightforward consideration of Maryam and Mona's dilemma. But even as a character study it’s underwhelming—neither the elliptical ambiguities nor the sober plot twists (both common in Iranaian cinema) make it more thought-provoking.

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