Following in the arthouse tradition of filmmakers like Asghar Farhadi and Jafar Panahi, Vahid Jalilvand’s No Date, No Signature deals with integrity and (in)justice in contemporary Iran. A multifaceted drama, the film reveals the depth of human feelings through a well directed and masterfully acted narrative.
One night, forensics doctor Kaveh Nariman (Amir Aghaee) bumps into a scooter by accident without visible consequences for its passengers, a modest family with a small daughter and 8-year-old son. Considering the possibility of a concussion, the doctor bonds with the boy and offers to take him to the hospital, although he avoids calling the police since his car insurance has expired. The couple ignores the doctor’s advice and vanishes into the dark. A few days later, the doctor discovers the boy’s body was brought in for an autopsy, which naturally manifests interest in the cause of death, though Kaveh keeps his distance while his colleague investigates.
No Date, No Signature excels by subtly examining themes of integrity and moral duties. In the film, nothing is good or bad, as characters are revealed to be equally guilty and innocent — justice seems to be found somewhere in between spontaneous decisions and fate. This grey area is visually sustained by the desaturated cinematography, a rather obvious measure that doesn’t overshadow the heartfelt performances. The colour palette mirrors the drained souls of those affected by the unintentional death of an innocent life, almost as if grief could pass through the screen. In contrast, the harsh sunlight is a welcomed addition during a reenactment scene at a chicken plant, enhancing the absurdity of the situation and the emotional charge. Also, the similar lightning technique links the morgue to the chicken plant as a form of connection between the two worlds, of the medical upper class and the underprivileged. The night scenes and staging of characters in narrow spaces — as if confined in their own repentance — accentuate the gruelling atmosphere. As one gets invested in the search for justice and truth, a few elements of suspense are highlighted through steadicam shots.
The film’s true strength is its paradoxical nature. Kaveh fights like a madman to set the record straight about the boy’s death, although he seems to be the only one preoccupied with such a fine distinction. In this quest, the corruption and hostility are subtly uncovered and interiorised as their origin seems to be found in rather utilitarian purposes, with people breaking the law as a necessity to get through the day. The inability to man up for careless actions triggers a snowball effect, fit for a crisis of consciousness. Above everything, a child had died, and none of the suspects are depicted as cruel people, but rather indirectly made responsible by destiny’s wicked ways. Although the drama is quite heavy, No Date, No Signature is never excessive, with the actors pleasantly avoiding melodramatic acts, thanks to an extremely well-written screenplay. Jalilvand presents a subdued social portrait that doesn’t point fingers at the regime, yet the film plants seeds of doubt by hinting at inequality issues, corruption and lack of proper medical care.
With No Date, No Signature, Jalilvand builds upon what Iranian cinema does best, as he unapologetically examines a string of unfortunate events that stem from one small accident. As a result, international audiences may easily relate to the characters’ responses and inner conflict.
Andreea Pătru (@andreeapatru89) is a Romanian film critic and programmer who resides in Spain. Apart from taking part in the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy and Talents Sarajevo in 2016, she has written for Indiewire, Desistfilm and collaborated with Romanian outlets such as Film Reporter, Observator Cultural and FILM magazine. Andreea is a programmer at Tenerife Shorts – Tenerife International Short Film Festival and has previously worked for Romanian Film Promotion.