Fascinating snapshot of rural Iran

Issue 

REVIEW BY SARAH STEPHEN Picture

Secret Ballot
Written and directed by Babak Payami
Starring Nassim Abdi
and Cyrus Ab
Distributed by Celluloid Dreams (< info@celluloid-dreams.com>)
Screened at the
49th Sydney Film Festival

Secret Ballot explores the social position of women in Iran through the prism of an election. A young woman (played by Nassim Abdi) arrives on a small, sparsely populated island to ensure that every resident has the opportunity to vote. She surprises the soldier (Cyrus Ab) assigned to accompany her, who expected a man to carry out the task.

This assertive and idealistic woman works hard to convince people of their rights and their responsibilities, but encounters many difficulties. The camera lingers over her discomfort and annoyance at being weighed down by the customary layers of clothing and long veil which women are expected to wear.

The two main characters struggle to understand each other — one with unswerving faith in the electoral process, the other convinced that the only thing which will compel people to vote is his gun. After initially trying to obstruct her work, the soldier is eventually won over by the election agent's naive commitment.

However, the woman's faith in the electoral process is shaken when her idealism confronts the power wielded by the male heads of villages, who determine if, and for whom, the women of the village will vote. Many people simply aren't interested in voting at all.

Writer and director Babak Payami cast non-professional actors, some who couldn't even read or write, which adds to the authenticity of the film. It is a slow-paced film. Yet once you adjust, this becomes an element of its beauty. There are also some beautiful comic moments.

Secret Ballot is a fascinating snapshot of life in rural Iran, exploring the oppression of women, the role of religion and the differing levels of engagement with the political process.

From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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