Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 6:59 pm 
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Wrong and wronger

No Date, No Signature is an almost unremittingly grim feature, that does some of the things the Iranians do extremely well in their movies, perhaps better than anybody else. Action begins with an unfortunate initial event. Following scenes carve away at that event, examining it from a hundred different angles, assembling troubling details that pose a disturbing and complex moral dilemma. These details are wonderfully conceived even though the way they pile up, or the reactions to them, eventually may come to seem in some aspects implausible. As they amass, so do the guilt and recrimination, other areas of strength in Iranian cinema, which often depicts a society where people seek to point responsibility away from themselves, with very mixed results. The acting here is first rate. So is the look, the images in unusually handsome black and white that manages to be elegant without ceasing to be grim. This film is a pleasure to watch, even if we may writhe uneasily as we enjoy.

It all begins with a sudden car accident, hastily - too hastily - dealt with. A driver is sideswiped and caused to in turn drive a motorcyclist off the road, who has his wife and daughter and young son in tow. The driver is Dr. Kaveh Nariman (Amir Aghaee). The motorcyclist is Moosa (Navid Mohammadzadeh), with his wife Leila (Zakiyeh Behbahani). She and their daughter are only a little bruised. But their 8-year-old son Amir Ali is more shaken, and may have a mild concussion.

Nariman is a doctor. He checks Amir Ali, who says he feels okay. The doctor wants to take them all to the hospital, but Moosa will only agree to to stop on his own at a nearby clinic to have the boy examined. Nariman gives him money. This is routine in Iran. Moosa really wants the police to be notified but Nariman won't agree to this, because his insurance has expired, and there would be trouble. All this is, of course, a matter also of class and economic status. Well-off doctors don't drive their families around on motorbikes. Those are things of the working classes.

As they drive away, Nariman sees Moosa drive by the clinic. He waves to him to stop, but he doesn't. And that is that. But that, of course, is not that at all. This early scene, however, is a model of the whole, patient, methodical, full of detail, troubling.

Nariman is a forensic examiner. A few days later, he hears the family name of Moosa. It is the boy. He is dead. This is where the complications begin. First there is Nariman's handsome, austere female colleague, Dr. Sayeh Behbahani (Hediyeh Tehrani of Ashghar Farhadi's [url=""]Fireworks Wednesday[/url]). It is she who does the autopsy of the boy. She finds he is infected with botulism and believes that is the cause of death. But Nariman theorizes that it was a spinal injury's delayed action, making him responsible.

The film keeps the relationships complex and conflictual, Nariman-Sayeh, whose connection is clearly more than professional; Nariman-Moosa; and Moosa and his wife, Leila, through whose grief and anger we feel the tragic loss of the child.

But Moosa is responsible for the botulism, or rather an unscrupulous seller of chicken from a kind of packing plant where he bought it at a bargain price. The scene where Moosa in a rage confronts and attacks the chicken seller I am not the first to note has a kind of Shakespearean tragic grandeur. It is the reason why Mohammadzadeh received high honors at Iran's annual film awards, as No Date, No Signature got Best Film.

When Moosa is arrested for assaulting the chicken seller and ultimately charged with murder, the film's trajectory takes on the feel of Rossellini, of Italian neorealism. But the continual arguments between Sayah and Nariman maintain a strain that is unmistakably Iranian. Nariman's torment parallels Moosa's, as he pursues his own guilt, insisting on exhuming the corpse of the boy to do his own private autopsy.

This excellent film is not without flaws. Chief among them is the implausiblity of Nariman's insistence on incriminating himself when he has no need to so so and there is strong evidence that the boy dies from what he ate. Or, if not, he would have died from the botulism shortly thereafter. But maybe this situation is too complicated for its own good. And Sayeh's relationship with Nariman is kept too nebulous. There are other doubts. But as Jay Weissberg's Venice Variety review points out, the emotions remain strong and convincing throughout, however overcomplicated the plot details.

No Date, No Signature, 104 mins. بدون تاریخ، بدون امضاء (Bidun tarikh, bidun imdha')
In 23 known international festivals, beginning with Fajr, Istanbul and Venice in Feb., Apr., and Sept., 2017, and screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Apr. 2018.

Saturday, April 7, 2018 AT 5:45 p.m. at BAMPFA
Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. at Creativity Theater
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 8:30 p.m. at Roxie Theater

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