my review: white meadows – a film by mohammad rasoulof

just saw iranian film “white meadows”. directed by mohammad rasoulof and edited by jafar panahi, the introduction itself was sensational as both men have been arrested by the iranian govt. the film is described as an allegorical poem rooted in persian literature and contemporary politics. the cinematography is stunning. the film was shot on the salt islands of lake urmia. scenes are bare, mostly devoid of color or texture, and stark in their black and white contrast. men and women dressed in black, moving quietly across still, panoramic shots reminded me of shirin neshat’s video work.

we go on a journey with rahmat, a professional tear collector, who travels from salt island to salt island, listening to people’s heartaches and collecting their tears. the visualization of the expression of grief and ritualistic human endeavors aimed at resolving it, living with it, are poetic indeed. in one village, people take turns whispering their sorrowful secrets into small glass jars and shutting them tight. after they have their tears gathered by rahmat into a small glass vial, all the jars weighed down by guilt, pain and remorse are attached to the body of a man small enough to climb down the well. he happens to be a dwarf who was recently married. he is asked to leave the jars at the bottom of the well and climb back up before sunrise. the man is apprehensive about being able to move that fast but he accepts his fate. when he is unable to resurface on time, the rope is cut condemning him to death, to the lamentation of his young wife. rahmat encounters many such stories.

altho i appreciate the symbolic import of each fable and i am not one to complain about abstraction, i was disappointed by many of the stereotypical images used by rasoulof. the stoning of a young lover, the ceremonial sacrifice of an underage virgin, the torture of dissenters – these are not ground-breaking allegories but mainstream platitudes that the west is already v cozy with. they don’t tell us anything new about iran, but reinforce the propagandist summation of iran as cruel, mysterious, incomprehensible. the reaction i heard most often in the theater, throughout the film, was “jeez” – an expression of shock and self-righteous dismay. any fox news report on iran can produce that reaction, any time of the day.

of course i am all for freedom of speech, especially artistic expression. rasoulof’s film is visually complex and humane. yet i fear the reaction of many magnanimous americans who might be tempted to think that we have something to teach other cultures. and another question: when do we get to see an allegorical film about american oppression and ritualistic sacrifice? symbols could include images of scalping and branding people, waterboarding and dark pools of thick sticky oil. any takers?

white meadows