Movie: Film Movement is a small, independent company that scours the world for lesser known but still extremely interesting movies to distribute in their subscription service. Once a month, the company presents a title that would've otherwise died in the film festival circuit, escaping the notice of all but a handful of critics and movie buffs. In this sense, it would be great if similar companies were established in order to promote movies that might not have huge budgets and self important Hollywood stars yet still had a vision to present to the public but as things stand, few others are bold enough to take the kind of chances needed to really provide a true outlet for directors and producers a more direct conduit to a mass audience. The company's latest release is Day Break (Dame Sobh), a title by director Hamid Rahmanian who takes a look at Iran's death penalty as it effects the life of one lost soul.
The death penalty is currently the cause of a great deal of controversy and has been for some time. On one hand, you have the need for societal control and punishment of law breakers. On the other hand, you have the people who think that such a penalty is barbaric, unfairly applied, and inherently wrong. Each side has its extremists (the pro-penalty side with the desire to expand the punishment to a number of serious crimes and the anti-penalty side who preach that you can never be certain of guilt, it's better to allow a killer to live in prison, etc.) and as a resident of the Texas county where more juries use the penalty than anywhere else in the free world (this is technically a misnomer since many countries have means for "losing prisoners" in their system), I have seen both sides clash in the media war up close and personal. To be frank, I support it and think that virtually all Hollywood movies on the subject are steadfastly against it but both sides will gain some understanding for the movie, even though the country of origin is pretty high on the "don't buy any real estate list" given their propensity to antagonize others with their nuclear development of late.
The movie is told in a variety of forms, unlike most professionally handled movies. Initially, it opens up with a handheld camera as though it is a straightforward documentary but after the stage is set and prisoner Mansour is introduced, the director reverts to a more natural drama form of story telling. Weaving flashbacks of the man's life and what led up to the events of the day when he was frustrated with his boss and coldly killed him in front of dozens of people, providing no easy way out for the tree huggers to suggest the man might be innocent. The trial aspect is skipped and the primary stage is the prison where the sentence is to be carried out. Islamic law has a quirk in it though; the family of the victim is allowed an opportunity to offer mercy, sparing the killer for compensation (yeah, that'd work here…) or out of compassion. The flip side of this is that they must also be present at the execution, taking part in it as well. As the movie progresses, we see such a case with Mansour up close and personal to the pardon, further hitting home that his life hangs by a precarious thread.
The gimmick of the movie is that the victim's family keeps missing the execution date, forcing him to bounce back and forth between the psychological aspects of acceptance and denial again and again. The director often skillfully details the passage of time via family visits, friendships Mansour develops in the prison, and the delayed dates. Seeing how he deals with what he has done and the possibility that every date that comes up might be his last marks the dramatic struggle in this human character study. Here's what the box cover said:
"In Iran, capital punishment is carried out according to Islamic law, which gives the family of the victim ownership of the offender's life. Day Break, based on a compilation of true stories and shot inside Tehran s century-old prison, revolves around the imminent execution of Mansour, a man found guilty of murder. When the family of the victim repeatedly fails to show up on the appointed day, Mansour's execution is postponed again and again. Stuck inside the purgatory of his own mind, he waits as time passes on without him, caught between life and death, retribution and forgiveness."
In the end, the death penalty is examined in a unique manner as well as its effect on the human spirit. Contrary to what you may think, people are largely alike all over the world and the impact of the delays on the carrying out of the sentence provides an interesting focal point of the movie. The lead actor of the movie, Hossein Yari, comes across as a very talented individual and the direction makes the movie a lot more powerful than it would have been had he taken a side about the appropriateness of the penalty itself. Much like our (USA) own death penalty, the waiting is the hardest part so the look at that part of the process made this a title I felt comfortable suggesting as Recommended.
Picture: Day Break was presented in an anamorphic widescreen color 1.85:1 as shot by director Hamid Rahmanian. It looked a bit rough, not surprising considering the budget he probably had to work with and the conditions of filming in Iran's ancient prison in Tehran. It was slightly disconcerting to see the abrupt change of styles as the crew went from a pseudo-documentary style to the usual dramatic method but aside from the mixture of methods and low level of lighting contributing grain & video noise, the stark visuals enhanced the storyline a lot.
Sound: The audio was presented in the original Farsi with English subtitles in a 2.0 Dolby Digital processed signal. There were some rough edges here too but the vocals were clear, the music appropriate to the material, and the balance between them handled very nicely. It still sounded like an independent film made on limited means but the raw energy of the material at hand more than compensated for the aural limitations. The subtitles were easy to read, flowing naturally and not appearing too soon before, or after, the words as spoken by the cast (a problem with lower end companies I've observed over the years).
Extras: The best extra on any release by Film Movement is the bonus short film. In this case, the short was Dumb Angel, a weird but excellent short lasting under ten minutes but focusing on the drumming talents of Anders Erickson by director Deco Dawson (considered one of the most talented young independent filmmakers in the world). Going beyond a simple concert film of Erickson tearing up the drums, the short seems intent on providing the artist as form in what will likely be a well received look at modern music. The other extras included a biography of director Hamid Rahmanian and actor Hossein Yari, with a true double sided DVD cover as well.
Final Thoughts: Day Break will not appeal to everyone but it was an interesting look into legal practices relating to the death penalty in a country other than the USA. While such a practice of allowing the victims family to strong-arm a killer for financial compensation in return for a pardon would fly in the face of acceptable behavior here (there are enough transgressions here already), it did offer up a decidedly different look at a system from a country that generally gets press when they are held in a negative light. While the financial benefit of releasing such a movie would not even raise an eyebrow in Hollywood, Film Movement should once again by congratulated for looking to provide a distinctly different type of movie, one showing a lot of merit at every one of its multiple layers.