The White Meadows (2009)

02 March 2011

Guest review: Srini S. is based in India

Mohammad Rasoulof’s The White Meadows is visual brilliance and urgent political dialogue weaved together artfully into a cinematic masterpiece. This film takes on an altogether higher significance in the light of his imprisonment in Iran for making such films. I urge you to visit the blog The Sheila Variations that has more to say on the imprisonment of filmmakers like Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi (also the editor of The White Meadows).
The first few scenes set the tone for the rest of the film, strongly committing itself towards highlighting the living conditions of its characters. However, this film is not to be approached with documentary-like realism in mind. It works best as an allegory that is strongly rooted in humanistic concerns. The pacing is appropriate for a film of this nature with the camera unhurriedly capturing the essence of the place.

The film is set in a bunch of sparsely populated island-villages separated from sea by salt marshes. The imagery is at once arresting, be it of the vast expanse of salt flats or of the rocky coast lines. As picturesque as the landscape is, it is a part of the pervasive bleakness in these villages, be it as a result of lack of rain or lack of hope. Individual interests here are subordinated not to the social good, but to the attempt at preserving the social order, no matter how oppressive it is.

Each character in The White Meadows deals with the oppression in a different way. Rahmat, a healer by profession, collects tears from grieving relatives of dead and from those who have sinful confessions to make to themselves. He manages to glide through the system only because he actively chooses not to confront the system in spite of having little faith in it. Then there are the characters of a dwarf and a beautiful girl that in their own tragic ways succumb to the systemic oppression without having much of a choice. But the worst of the fates await those that dare to escape the system (like a young boy who accompanies Rahmat in his trips) or those who choose to confront it head on. Someone who belongs to that last category is a painter, who is punished brutally by the village not only for painting the sea in red color instead of blue, but also for refusing to correct it when given an opportunity to, in exchange of harsher punishment. Ironically, this parallels what happened with Rasoulof and Panahi.

The White Meadows is not only a well crafted film, but also a historically important documentary of the times we live in. With growing intolerance and curbs on individual freedom and artistic expression around the world, such films should be widely seen and widely shown, even if only to remind us of the tragedy that awaits a society that chooses to tread on an oppressive path.