– Deconstructing humanism of Hossien Shahabi’s The Bright Day
One might brand this movie as a reflection of Iran’s fringe filmmaking culture. A quintessential offbeat screenplay intertwined with adequate cultural offerings. Perhaps, a movie that is oriented towards an audience which considers itself to be a learned lot on morality debates of the non-western societies. When, however, this 96 minutes long motion picture met my eye, I preferred to think the other way.
A directorial debut of a cinematic prodigy, The Bright Day is like a universe packed in a small cab. Like the theories of everything human about this world presented through the unravelling of two beings. Yes, this is how brief the world can get. At least in the same head that is perplexed by the vastness and vagueness it forms for itself.
Despite its strong fringe characteristics, I would call the narrative an inward shift of mirror to face the Iranian society itself. It’s a social commentary on the tragic manipulations of the nation’s criminal justice system by the far reaching hands of the rich and powerful. What could have been an old wine in a new bottle came across as a flavour that has not been favoured before. Yes, the sub narratives involved in the script opened up dilemmas surrounding individual morality and the feeblish character it practically possess.
The story revolves around a kindergarten teacher, Farhoudi (Pantea Bahram) who is taken a taxi to scale the city in order to find possible witnesses who can testify for Pousan, a man who is charged for the murder of his colleague who is also supposed to be the son of his boss. So, what withers the abstractness? To some extent, it is the fact that Pousan fathers a young boy who is a student at Farhoudi’s school. The other half of abstractness, the one which deals with Farhoudi’s overzealous attempt to save Pousan’s life, is a plot that dominates the major part of the film.
On her journey to find witnesses, Farhoudi is joined by a cab driver Kiani (Mehran Ahmedi) who too becomes extremely passionate about Pousan’s case and endeavours to do every possible thing to help Farhoudi fetching the right witnesses. Farhoudi has been informed by Pousan’s lawyer that the witnesses (more than 1) must be brought before the court within six hours otherwise the accused would meet a deadly fate. It is this period of six hours that serves the central screenplay of the movie.
Focusing on the abstractness of Farhoudi’s extremely selfless endeavour, the awkwardness of the same is realised by each and every possible witness she goes ahead to approach. Most of these people are Pousan’s co-workers who were present at the time of the questioned event when a brief scuffle between Pousan and his boss’s son led to the latter’s accidental fall from the staircase. Everybody knows this act to be an accident but nobody wants to testify the same due to the financial baits and physical threats advanced by the prosecuting party. When Farhoudi questions these people about the falsity of their decision making, she’s met with counter questions that doubt her intentions behind getting involved in the case. While Kiani’s support is purely on humanitarian and moralistic grounds, the story maintains a convenient silence about the true intentions of Farhoudi. Such is the genuineness of her efforts, that one shall be forced to put her intention under the humanitarian context only.
The movie is mostly shot in real time which contributes to its realism credentials. Every minute of those six hours is impregnated with sheds of anxiety and corresponding hope. The intelligent absence of background score from the climactic moments of the film provides a better insight into the psyche of the characters. We are rather exposed to surrounding sounds of chirping birds, passing cars and government healthcare announcements. Such closeness with the entire context of a particular plot presents the emotional gravity of the characters involved and the urgency of the situation in the most accurate way possible. It also hints towards the fact that no matter how big your problem is, the surrounding world is unaffected of its maladies.
One of the briefest sub themes of the narrative deals with the issue of gender roles and resulting sexism in the society. The widely occurring instance of this assertion can be the aspersions associated with Farhoudi’s interest in saving Pousan while no such image is built around Kiani. Such is the pressure of this doubt, that along with continuing tiredness, it leads to an unexpected outburst from Farhoudi where she screams that ‘I can be his anything. His sister, mother or daughter. It’s not about me though. It’s about a man who may face resistance for an act he has not committed.’ The other instance of such gender inequality can be seen from the fact that one of the most promising witnesses, who happened to be a woman, was unable to help Pousan because women are not allowed to testify in criminal cases involving intentional homicide.
The movie is devoid of any cinematic pretence. The frames are kept as raw and insightful as they would have been in a realist outplay of such an incident. And that is what imbibes a viewer to the depth of the existing problem. Probably, we don’t need that artificially induced rush of emotions to understand the gravity of a situation. Sometimes, the act of making us see the reality as it is can stir up deepest compassion for these are the realities we often seek to ignore in our daily processes. Processes that seek convenience of everything good, expected and under our control.
It is not just the bleakness that the director wants to portray through his narrative. It is the regrettable apathy that people have developed towards this bleakness that amuses his cause. Farhoudi’s failure to move the possible witnesses by invoking the possible plight of Pousan’s son and ailing mother shows the receding morality of people in a materialistic context. Even the most religious of beings conveniently choose to forsake religion’s offerings on piety and truthfulness by building a bubble around their conscience that somehow moulds their action to suit the ‘broader’ sanctions of their religion. This can be seen in the counter argument raised by one of the witnesses who said that ‘I would not support a murderer’ even after knowing the fact that the person he’s referring to is actually innocent.
So, I would say that The Bright Day was so inhumane that it felt too human. It exposed me to the realities I’m somewhat aware of but I would still be shocked by the visual representation of the same. The only humane aspect of the narrative, Farhoudi’s selfless humanitarian effort, also tends to retreat in the later part of the movie. As the story takes a desperate turn, we get exposed to the humanness of Farhoudi. And if the movie’s definition of humanness is anything to go by, this exposure did hurt a lot. All this while, I wanted Farhoudi to be that one shred of idealism that as a visionary I can cling to; that one fault of the narrative that could divorce me from the realism of the situation. ‘Oh, it’s just the fiction’! I wish I could exclaim. But it didn’t. Farhoudi is also a human and that too in a society that she’s done fighting against. As a human, her demeanour is also colourable by shades of emotions and feelings; a sense of attachment to the subject matter if not selfishness. And we see just that. Sigh! But so artistic, indeed.
The Bright Day is nothing short of desperation; or anxiety. It’s like a visual display of emotions where humans just get to be there. While watching this film you’ll be forced to forge certain dilemmas within. The debates you were always running away from. But it all comes down to convenience. It all comes down to that perverseness the elimination of which you started this entire fight for at the first place but ended up succumbing to the same to avoid a larger or broader harm. That’s why we see Kiani, after being rattled by the last minute hostility of a promising witness, asks Pousan’s lawyer to present him as one of the witnesses.
So, is change a utopia that the society would be done thriving for? Perhaps, it is. However, what’s more important is that how you twitch the status quo to make a little sense of circumstances around you. We may be doing it a wrong way, but we aren’t heading towards the wrong.