A 10-year-old boy dies of unknown causes. A passing car struck him the night before; the driver was a successful doctor. We soon find out that the child had been suffering from a severe case of food poisoning, caused by eating rotten chicken that was purchased by his father. When the doctor hears the boy’s name read from a mortuary intake report, he becomes beset with guilt, and becomes obsessed with finding out the true cause of death, confident he is responsible. Meanwhile, the father, believing he is the one that killed his son, travels an opposing road of guilt and takes actions into his own hands, in turn setting of a chain of events.
That synopsis is not a spoiler, I might add, but is the crux of the story. Suffice to say that No Date, No Signature holds a rather complex narrative, but one told simplistically. It is the second film from Iranian director Vahid Jalivand, following his 2015 debut Wednesday, May 9, and it qualifies him as an important new voice, not only for Iranian cinema, but also for cinema in general.
The film follows its two central characters as they navigate the reality of the same tragedy with entirely different perspectives. Both men carry insurmountable guilt, and yet their actions and reactions contrast. One man’s guilt forces him to withdraw socially while seeking the truth, whereas the other is compelled to lash out violently. And so we are given a fascinating character study that explores an introverted mind’s reaction from an extroverted one, and on display are two solid performances from Amir Aghaee and Navid Mohammadzadeh. Both men give emotionally charged turns that bound the drama with humanity.
These actors occupy opposite sides of the screen, with two interactions bookending the story. Their commitment to their respective characters is undeniable, and the juxtaposition of mentalities makes for an absorbing experience. We, the viewer, can see the story from a perspective unbeknownst to each character, and yet despite the conclusion seeming obvious throughout, the film throws a few curve balls to challenge our perception. It is a cleverly crafted – and unexpected – whodunit.
The look of the film is handsome, with a well-controlled production design and intimate photography. Jalivand’s direction has the camera understanding and respecting the psyche of the characters, with wide-angles and close-ups being employed strategically throughout. He also considers the female characters carefully, and hints at a strong social and political agenda by depicting them as strong, independent and irrepressible women. The women of this story, while bound to some cultural and religious restraints, are all assertive and defiant. And while their story is secondary to the two leads, their place within the narrative is bold.
I had considered my knowledge of Iran to be adequate, although what information I get admittedly comes directly from media outlets and Wikipedia. And so what struck me most about Jalivand’s film was its depiction of Iranian life. The film takes place within a recognisable society, not far removed from the Westernised world that I know, and seeing their modern lifestyle depicted in such a familiar way has exposed my ignorance.
No Date, No Signature is a universal story that transcends cultural boundaries. It is a human story about love, loss and guilt. It is directed thoughtfully and performed superbly. It is subtly rebellious in its depiction of women and proves to be an absorbing drama that will resonate – wherever it is seen.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘No Date, No Signature’ began a limited Australian theatrical run on June 28.