By Stella Andrada Kasdovasili
No date, No signature (Bedoune Tarikh, Bedoune Emza) by Iranian director Vahid Jalilvand is an intense moralist drama, tackling social, political, economic and gender issues in a beautifully depicted neorealist way.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Nariman, played by Amir Agha’ee, drives his car into a motorcycle carrying a four-member family. Quickly, he rushes to check the members of the family and examines the 8 year-old boy for signs of concussion. Offering money to the family in an attempt to avoid involving the police, as his car insurance has expired, he suggests a visit to a local clinic for further examination of the child.
The father Moosa, portrayed by Navid Mohammadzadeh, initially refuses the money but accepts it for the medical expenses. The next day, the body of the young boy end ups dead in the hospital where Dr. Nariman works.
From then on, the storyline unravels, with intense emotional outbreaks. Fear cripples in, while the doctor agonizes over the cause of the child’s death by blaming himself, while a devastated father admits never taking his son to the clinic and choosing instead to provide dinner to his family. When the root cause of the child’s death is established to be botulism caused by contaminated meat that the father had purchased for a very cheap price, the hunt of who is at fault commences.
Guilt due to neglect seems to set the tone of the whole movie. The doctor who neglected the car insurance, the father who neglected the doctor’s suggestion to visit the clinic, the manager who neglected how his employees sold rotten chicken for extra money, the employee who neglected the consequences of selling those chickens, the mother who could not second-guess her husband’s role as a provider and faces the loss of her child; each and every one’s actions are intertwined in a web of mutual conditionality.
What I find incredibly fascinating about this movie is how remarkably biopolitical it is and how it speaks to the nuanced ways the relations of power operate within our society.
The fact that each and every protagonist is facing a morality crisis together with the fact that placing blame on just one particular individual is so hard, reflects for me how decentralized power is and how we, as subjects, are always involved to some extent to the way it reproduces itself.
Differences of class, gender and cultural and social capital create the conditions that lead to the child’s death, and are all inscribed on his body. The rotten chicken, a metaphor in my understanding for the toxicity of today’s systemic and systematic oppression and inequalities, eaten and ingested leads to death and yet, the protagonists seem to be so caught up in their own guilt trip.
Their desire to be punished for what they have or presume they have done, as a form of salvation, overshadows the actual child and his death. Instead of acknowledging how all of them have been both victims and perpetrators, they fight for the ultimate moral punishment.
Claiming to be the only one at fault can be read at the same time as a narcissistic claim to be the only one who could have been the saviour. No Date, No Signature manages, for me, to reveal how our egocentrism can contaminate even our most intense moments of vulnerability.