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Ballad Of A White Cow ★★★



Director: Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghaddam

Cast: Maryam Moghaddam, Alireza Sanifar

Release: Available on MUBI

Living as a victim of circumstance or environment takes a darker turn when factoring in the legal, social, and financial dangers that come with a person’s surroundings. For the marginalised, it’s often a day-to-day reality, making ends meet through a framework that’s debilitating at best and life-threatening at worst. Ballad Of A White Cow intersects the plight of the country’s women with its working class, resulting in a harrowing—though often predictable—tale of wrongdoing.

After her husband is executed for murder, widow Mina (played by Maryam Moghaddam) accepts a friendly shoulder to cry on from stranger Reza (Alireza Sanifar). Learning that her husband was wrongly killed for a crime he didn’t commit, and Mina stops at nothing to demand recompense from the judges that sentenced him. As she tries to balance work, motherhood and justice, the answer to Mina’s problems are closer than she first imagined. 

It’s an odd yet sobering reality to see execution spoken of so casually, hallmarking Ballad Of A White Cow’s success of speaking outside of its national confines. The film is a universal struggle to get by, questioning how best to deal with grief and the constant patriarchal controlling of everyday life. Mina is quiet and likeable, though can sometimes fail to pack the emotional punch needed to seal the deal of realism. Together with Reza, the two serve as a platform to consider the age-old trait of man’s compassion having to come from the darkest of circumstances.

The cinematography leads with a Marina Abramovic-like installation of a white cow that represents that manifestation of innocence, later weaving through a natural landscape of Irani forests never before represented by Western media. Motifs of cinema are used throughout as a means of escape, particularly surrounding Mina’s deaf daughter. In the shadows of CODAs limelight, it’s interesting to sink back into deafness being pushed to one side. Often excused from conversations happening around and about her, the daughter stays in the crossfire of dramatic narrative without seeing any retribution. 

Losing her factory job to protests and her home to male judgement, Mina represents an effortless intersection of international politics. Men tell her to ‘put herself first’, yet have ulterior motives to what that should entail. The legal authorities overseeing the new investigation into the aforementioned murder issue blood money as if Mina was taking a trip to the butchers. Possibly described as a widow’s bravery against an unjust system, describing necessity as a form of courage could be a patronising viewpoint from an outside eye.

Painted with muted tones and flashes of life, Ballad Of A White Cow is bleak yet satisfying. Often taking the predictable narrative route, its communication is an important judgement on misogynistic tyranny within social culture. Flecked with crooked landlords, unjust law enforcers and entitled men, the film presents an explicitly clear moral hook—it’s debt that makes the world go round, not money.

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