“An eye for an eye is very costly. It’s not easy at all.”
Many religions speak about forgiveness. It may be about the way we have been forgiven, or it may focus on our need to forgive others. In Yalda, A Night of Forgiveness from Iranian director Massoud Bakhshi, the process of forgiveness is the engine that drives the story.
Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) has been convicted of murdering her temporary husband Nassar Zia and sentenced to death. But in Iran, the death sentence can be avoided if the family of the victim forgives. Maryam is scheduled to appear on a television show, “Joy of Forgiveness”, which brings together killer and family to try to negotiate forgiveness on live TV. She must persuade her husband’s daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) to spare her from hanging.
Nearly the whole film takes place within the TV station. Since it is a live show, there are issues that come up that create a certain amount of chaos. This is not staged with an assumed outcome, although the producers of the show certainly would prefer a happy ending.
There is a bit of surreality to this show, because along with being reality show, it is also a variety entertainment, with songs and other guests. And there is a viewers’ poll about whether Maryam should be forgiven, the numbers determining if the sponsors will pay the blood money involved. Part of the strangeness of the show is that this episode takes place on Yalda, the Zoroastrian celebration of the winter solstice. This longest night of the year is a time of family celebrations. To have such a downer subject on TV is bothersome to one of the producers of the show who keeps wanting to lighten things up.
Much of the film is spent with the moderated dialogue between Maryam and Mona. Maryam views Mona as a big sister and mentor. But now Mona is cold and hardened. Maryam is encouraged to beg for mercy, but instead she maintains her innocence, claiming the death was an accident. There are other issues involved in this conversation, some of which only play out in the background. Then a surprise revelation to everyone concerned brings many more issues into play.
Through it all we are left to consider whether Mona should or will forgive Maryam and save her life. We may also want to consider what reasons there should be for Mona’s decision. The nature of forgiveness itself is never expressly stated. Instead we are focused more on the pragmatic, cultural, and economic issues at play. But in one of the entertainment interruptions to the show, a famous movie star comes on to read a poem in celebration of Yalda. Before reading the poem she tells the viewers, “Yalda means that life is short, that the extra minutes we share together are cause for celebration.” While that may seem extraneous to the negotiations taking place over Maryam’s life, it serves to speak to the value of life—each moment of life. That in itself may be a reason for any of us to consider the value of forgiveness in our lives.
Yalda, A Night of Forgiveness is available on virtual cinema through local arthouses.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.