Movie Review: Secret Ballot

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
An idea by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf provides the background to Babak Payami?s "Secret Ballot" which received a 10-minute standing ovation at the public screening last year at the Venice International Film Festival and later was awarded a special jury prize.

The film involves an object, a voting box, a cumbersome object like Jane Campion's "The Piano" and Roman Polanski's "Three Men and a Wardrobe" not to mention Samira Makmalbaf's "Blackboards".

In "Secret Ballot" an Iranian woman arrives to coordinate voting for the representatives of a remote area and is in charge of getting people to put secret ballots into the voting box. Two politicians out of 10 are to be selected. Their names are on a list and there are photographs to assist those who do not know anything about them. The woman is to be assisted by soldiers who will drive her around in a yellow jeep and keep watch over the process.

The journey takes us into the lives of Iranian people far away, smugglers, villagers who have their own government, and solar cell technicians who want to vote for God but no politician. In the film we discover the ways of Iranian culture and its gender differences. A young girl of 12, who can marry can not vote. Women giving birth can not see photographs of unknown men, so they can not possibly vote either.

Is the process of voting democratic? A soldier seems to think that holding people at gunpoint will motivate those who are reluctant. The young woman offers to help the people who do not have any clue as to who they should vote for. Voting for the right politician will help the crops provide the people with water, with benefits to their livelihood.

The absurdity of law in the desert is poignantly captured by the process of voting but also by a traffic light placed in the middle of the desert. The woman urges the soldier to run the light situated in the vast desert of Iran with not a soul within miles. Where is the law she upholds, he wonders? The simplicity of objects is the power of this film and it is discovered, utilized and then disappears in an aircraft after touching the lives of so many. To see the needs of goat herders and fisherman, and women who must ask permission to" vote because their men are away is makes us question certain fundamentals about democracy. The sophistication of the Western democratic machinery seems absurd in comparison and court ordered bans on recounts lighters away from the simplicity of what it means to vote. This is the objective of Babak Payami's beautiful film "Secret Ballot" so warmly received at its international debut in Venice.

This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, Venice Italy,
More Information:
Secret Ballot
Iran, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, 2002