Much like the work of his countrymen Asghar Farhadi and Abbas Kiarostami, writer-director Vahid Jalilvand’s No Date, No Signature is a soberly made piece of melodramatic neorealism featuring just-trying-to-live characters who are forced to make moral decisions in a world where doing the right thing is usually a luxury that cannot be afforded. It is at heart a film about two men making the wrong decision at the exact same time.
On a highway at night, an aggressive speeding driver causes forensic pathologist Kaveh Nariman (Amir Aghaei) to knock a family of four, all riding a single motorcycle, off the highway. The doctor pulls over and checks to see if they’re all OK, even though — as we later learn — his insurance has expired. The only one who appears to have injuries is a small boy, who is suffering a slight pain in the back of his head. The doctor advises them to go to the nearest clinic to get checked out, but Moosa (Navid Mohammadzadeh), the boy’s father, ignores this and drives into the night.
You can probably see where this is going. The boy’s dead body winds up at Nariman’s hospital. Even though the autopsy rules that the kid died of botulism, a shocked and shaken Nariman keeps himself distant from the family, hiding in plain sight while trying to determine whether the accident was the true cause of death.
For a movie centered around the needless death of a child, Jalilvand (Wednesday, May 9) creates a heartbreaking but still hopeful story. As is consistently pointed out throughout, Nariman is an upstanding doctor, examining abused women and cursing out colleagues who botch autopsies. Once Nariman learns of the boy’s death, Aghaei effectively gives off a pained, ashamed vibe for most of the movie. You can plainly catch the guilt eating up Nariman, even when his back is to the camera.
As the dad who unfortunately gave his son the stale meat that led to his contracting botulism, Mohammadzadeh plays guilt in a more explosive, tortured manner. In a scene where Moosa goes to a meat factory to beat down the worker who sold him bad meat, Mohammadzadeh goes back and forth between screaming in anger and sobbing uncontrollably. I’ve never seen an actor as convincingly convey the rage and confusion a parent must go through after the sudden death of a child.
No Date, No Signature stirs up a lot of emotions but it mostly puts you in the shoes of two men who each had a chance to make the correct choice — and who fail miserably, and pay dearly. Ultimately, after causing much damage to others either physically or mentally, they both come to the realization that they must take responsibility for their actions.
You might expect Jalilvand’s movie to play as commentary on how men in that part of the world let their pride and stubbornness get in the way of making logical decisions. But the moral conundrums — and eventual, tragic aftermath — the characters face prove universal. In the dog-eat-kennel times we’re living in now, No Date, No Signature presents a story of flawed but generally decent people trying to put right what went so horribly wrong.