Secret Ballot

Secret Ballot


The ballot box that floats down by parachute, dropped from a plane in the red dawn, is the first mystery in Babak Payami’s entrancing, inexplicable film Secret Ballot. The nameless Iranian woman (Nassim Abdi) in a black chador who enthusiastically collects votes for a nameless election is the second. The muleish soldier (Cyrus Ab) assigned to accompany this unlikely proselytizer for the democratic process is the third. And the modern relationship between the two, which proceeds from mild bickering to a kind of chaste flirtation, is the fourth.

Who are these isolated, assertive citizens traipsing across a magically unhurried dot of land (the film was shot on Kish, a resort island in the Persian Gulf)? And what does Payami, working from a story by his more famous compatriot Moshen Makhmalbaf, mean to suggest to a non-Iranian audience about how life is lived so far away? The mysteries are unsolved, but ”Secret Ballot” charms with its amalgam of absurdity, optimism, humor, and avuncular regard for the million small daily chores, rituals, suspicions, and courtesies of dwellers on even the sparsest spots on earth.

Talking (or not) as they travel in an open jeep, accompanied by a sweet, light ribbon of music or in silence, coaxing the shy and the skeptical to participate (one old man wants to vote for God as his favorite candidate, or he won’t vote at all), the characters embody an idealized Middle Eastern culture, from a granny who rules her village to workers hammering (and thus building a future) in the sand. This island is bathed — all day, it seems — in lovely afternoon light, and the vistas Payami selects are soothing. The inhabitants shimmer in their eccentricity. And a stoplight shines red and green at the desert intersection of Nowhere and Nowhere in this slight, beguiling fairy tale.

Secret Ballot
  • Movie
  • 105 minutes