Secret Ballot

A satiric, if somewhat slow, look at the dream of democracy and the power of the popular vote in contemporary Iran. It's election day and, as dawn breaks across the beach of a small Iranian island, a large wooden box is airdropped from a passing plane. The crate contains a sealed ballot box, a map of the island and a set of instructions. At 8:15, a boat...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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A satiric, if somewhat slow, look at the dream of democracy and the power of the popular vote in contemporary Iran. It's election day and, as dawn breaks across the beach of a small Iranian island, a large wooden box is airdropped from a passing plane. The crate contains a sealed ballot box, a map of the island and a set of instructions. At 8:15, a boat will drop an election agent off on the island, and one of the two soldiers standing guard against smugglers has been ordered to accompany him as he collects ballots in remote parts of the island. When the boat finally arrives, the soldier assigned to the task (Cyrus Ab) is astounded to find that the agent isn't a man at all, but a young woman (Nassim Abdi), and a fiercely idealistic one at that. She explains that everyone with valid identification has the right to vote, even smugglers, and should exercise that right if they want their lives to improve. The soldier, however, is having none of it. He's convinced the whole system is irremediably corrupt, and only a gun can make a difference. The day's events will prove that neither is exactly right; as the two set off across the dusty desert island in an army jeep, the soldier learns how one voice can affect a change, and the agent sees how the system doesn't work. Twelve-year-old girls who are old enough to marry aren't old enough to vote. The people have no say in determining what candidates appear on the ballot. Encounters with would-be voters range from sad to hilariously absurd, and by the time the day draws to a close, the agent and the soldier have had their preconceptions challenged and ultimately changed. Scenes unfold in real time, with few cuts; individual takes can run as long as three-and-a-half minutes; and there's not a lot of action — cinematographer Farzad Jowdat (THE WHITE BALLOON) captures what little there is in long shot, with little or no camera movement. The drawn-out effect is deliberate — director Babak Payami wants his audience to concentrate on the characters' inner development and their isolation — but his strategy slows the film down to a crawl. Nevertheless, it's a strong testament to the power of the individual to make a difference, not necessarily through the popular vote, but through the simple act of communication.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: G
  • Review: A satiric, if somewhat slow, look at the dream of democracy and the power of the popular vote in contemporary Iran. It's election day and, as dawn breaks across the beach of a small Iranian island, a large wooden box is airdropped from a passing plane. The… (more)

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