• Christian Hain

Berlinale 2021 - Day 4: From Iran to Kinky Japan



First of all, let's ignore that elephant, well: bear, in the room. This year is different: Not only that Berlinale streamed online, or that not every film in competition was accessible to the press (more on this later), no the schedule was so tight, that the jury's decisions have been made, and communicated, before the last film in competition even stopped streaming. So, yes, I know the winners, and you do, too. But let's act, as if this wasn't the case. Aaaaand: action!


Ghasideyeh gave sefid ("Ballad of a White Cow") by Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghaddam starts with a Quran surah going "Moses told his people, 'Remember the time, when Allah commanded you to sacrifice a cow...." and the averagely ignorant Western viewer wonders, then suddenly recalls: "Mo- what?! Oh yes, yeah!, it is a Semitic religion, too!". We see such an animal lost in the prison yard, as a woman comes visiting a man on death row. Shiva wouldn't be amused (that's not a Semitic religion). Cut, and we discover the everyday life of that woman, who's the executed man's widow, and now raising their daughter alone. She doesn't get along well with his family who harasses her for money. Later, the authorities establish, that her husband fell victim to an error of justice - the crime by the way has been nothing "political", but some fight escalating to manslaughter. Not happy with the allocated "blood money" (that's what they call it) alone, the widow demands an excuse, leading the presiding judge - you might suspect that character when he first appears to be the actual killer, or maybe the hangman - to invade her life in disguise: only to help. It sounds almost like the beginning of a romance, but - spoiler! - there won't be a happy ending (I didn't fully get that end though - there's some ambiguity involved). Even more interesting than the single mother's struggles is the character development of a judge whose world is falling apart. Having always been loyal to the system, he's shaken by remorse for his error - the very first death sentence of his career, refuses to simply file it under kismet and be done with it, as his colleagues and superiors demand him to do, "Inshallah". Alireza Sanifar's performance in this role is remarkable. Moreover, Ballad of a White Cow paints a portrait of contemporary Persia (oops, did I just place myself on some list? - "Iran" of course; though Persia has the longer history).


The film is a fervent appeal against the death penalty - we haven't seen a lot of these coming from the West for some time, since Dead Man Walking or The Green Mile, and only implicitly accuses the Iranian system as a whole. It feels a little bit drawn out, though, certain scenes, and maybe the film as a whole, too - cut away half an hour, and you're fine.


WArts Verdict: A bear or two wouldn't be revolutionary, yet sentenced to life in exile.



Guzen to sozo ("Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy") is a Japanese episode film, wanting to tell short stories literary style. - But isn't it culturally ignorant to show this on the festival's fourth day?! That's the unlucky number in Japanese culture! Here's your excuse for not having wo- if you won't win a bear!


A model tells her bff about a man she's met and fallen in love with, and the friend recognizes her own ex in the story, and herself as the one who broke his heart; so she goes visiting him. (Putting us in the role of a voyeuristic taxi driver is an interesting camera choice at the beginning, but soon things get more conventional.)

A promiscous students fails to seduce a novel writing professor - doing one of her boyfriends a favour -, and just as she's given up on that plan and almost becomes friends with her supposed victim, she destroys his professional existence by accident.

A lesbian returns to her hometown for a high school reunion, and mistakes a perfect stranger for her former lover who's since turned straight, "I think, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."


WArts Verdict: Guzen to Sozo offers a lot of talk about love, sex, friendship and intrigue. It's well acted and directed.

But Hentai Kamen was more fun.


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