Secret Ballot


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In a minimalist way, using non-professional actors on a remote desert island, writer/director Babak Payami has made the gem of a movie. Just when you're thinking, "Here we go again, an Iranian yawnfest in which nothing happens slowly," an absurd situation arises, which is tackled with dignified seriousness.

The comic elements are built into the structure of the plot, rather than slapped in your face. It is election day. A government employee arrives by boat to supervise the proceedings. For a start, she's a woman (Nassim Abdi) and the sleepy soldier (Cyrus Abidi), whose job it is to guard the island from smugglers, can't get used to it. He must do what he is told and escort the lady in a mothballed, caramel-coloured jeep, which he finds embarrassing, because he is not used to clever women who speak their minds.

She rushes about looking for voters. He drives her, or follows on foot, carrying his gun, symbol of authority. She's from the city, blisteringly bright and enthusiastic. He's a simple man, who finds the whole thing disturbing. An election might mean changes, which could affect his job, and that's a worry. Voting in this isolated area is something of a novelty. Noone has a clue what it's about. "If I vote," an old man insists, "I must vote for God."

Payami pokes fun at the concept of democracy.

"What do you know about us and our problems?" the tiny, black robed official is asked. "We have to hide our feelings here."

Her feelings are eloquently expressed. Voting is good for you. It gives every citizen an opportunity to make a difference, let their voice be heard, etc. She sees her work as that of a political missionary.

She has difficulties here. Noone believes a word of what she's on about. Also the map she was given back at the office is useless. Half the places don't exist.

"Nothing ever happens on time," the soldier says, in an attempt to ease her panic.

The film is beautiful to look at and full of humanity that has nothing to do with "choosing two (candidates) from the pictures", or making a mark on a grubby piece of paper.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2002
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Secret Ballot packshot
A girl comes to collect election votes in remote Iranian island.
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Director: Babak Payami

Writer: Babak Payami

Starring: Nassim Abdi, Cyrus Abidi, Youssef Habashi, Farrokh Shojaii, Gholbahar Janghali

Year: 2001

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Iran/Italy


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