Secret Ballot

Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Nassim Abdi, Cyrus Abidi, Youssef Habashi, Farrokh Shojaii, Gholbahar Janghali

Director: Babak Payami

Based on an idea by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Babak Payami, an Iranian who studied film in Toronto, returned to her native Iran to present a parody of the Iranian election system in ‘Secret Ballot’. A young female official is sent to a desert island in the Persian Gulf on election day to collect votes for the national assembly.

Greeted rather gruffly by the uncouth guard on the beach who has been on smuggler-spotting duty, the woman demands to be escorted around the village so that she can complete her civic duties before nightfall. Judging by the size of the ballot box, which has been parachuted in in anticipation of the big day, the authorities are expecting a large number of votes – but the woman’s idealistic talk about the beauty of democracy and the importance of having a voice is soon turned into doubt as she sets about her duties.

This is a film about the tricky move towards democracy in Iran – that even though people may be given the vote – old traditions die hard. And for a rural population such as this desert community in the gulf, a vote to the National Assembly will have little bearing in the their lives. Some of the women approached explain they can’t make any decisions until their husbands are home, one twelve year old asks why she can’t vote even though she is allowed to marry – and other villages simply ignore the young election official. It is only the male guard escorting her around the island who starts to open his eyes to a world beyond the sea.

4 out of 6 stars

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