Film Review: No Date, No Signature

Vahid Jalilvand’s second feature No Date, No Signature is a dark character piece that studies issues of responsibility in a country suffocated by legalities, and offers more than a few powerful performances.

There’s something strange in the structure of the screenplay and some of the motivations here are a touch murky. Yet this still resonates, even if it isn’t quite as scathing an attack on modern Iran as the films of Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past, The Salesman and so on).

Dr. Kaveh Nariman (Amir Agha’ee) is driving home one night when he’s swiped by another car and hits a motorcycle that, however improbably, is carrying a whole family. Dad Moosa (Navid Mohammadzadeh) and mother Leila (Zakiyeh Behbahani) are only bruised and shaken up, and their little daughter seems okay, but then there’s 8 year old Amir, who Kaveh worries might have a mild concussion. However, somewhat shamed by the well-off doctor’s kindness and offer of compensation, Moosa gathers his family together and they carry on.

The next day Kaveh hears young Amir’s name amongst a list of the dead brought into his hospital the night before, naturally thinks that he’s to blame and, in a departure from the virtue he’s shown before, starts hiding from the family and trying to evade the probing questions of his colleague Dr. Sayeh Behbahani (an excellent Hediyeh Tehrani). When it emerges that the kid probably died of food poisoning, he feels relieved for a while, and we find it hard to like him for the rest of the movie.

There’s a slightly jarring shift (given that Kaveh has been the focus so far) and we now begin to examine the pain and anguish experienced by Amir’s parents. The complicated and even chaotic procedures that surround this death seem to only make the suffering of those left behind even worse.

Leila responds with a kind of weary, beaten grief while Moosa falls into an almost masochistic rage and rushes to the chicken processing plant where he bought the tainted meat and launches a furious assault upon one employee in particular. This sequence has been much-discussed elsewhere and is the film’s greatest, as Moosa’s wild anger becomes almost Shakespearean in its tragedy (even if the subtitles surely don’t quite capture the complexity of the Persian language), then blackly funny, and then hopeless.

Whereas Farhadi’s films depict an Iran struggling with a clash of old ways and difficult contemporary times, Jalilvand’s is all about the laws and bureaucracy that constrict the lives of ordinary people, and the way that the modern co-exists with tradition. Note the dreadful similarities between the slightly grungy morgue where Kaveh views Amir’s body and the factory where poison was sold and someone is responsible. But who? Who is really culpable and liable in the terrible end?

Rated M. No Date, No Signature is in cinemas now.

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