Iranian multihyphenate Maryam Moghaddam was last seen on screen in Berlin in Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi’s “Closed Curtain,” which in 2013 won the Silver Bear for best script. She’s back as protagonist of “Ballad of a White Cow,” which Moghaddam also co-directed and co-wrote with her partner Behtash Sanaeeha. The pic features a potent central character named Mina, the struggling single mother of a deaf daughter contending with the consequences of a blatant injustice: her husband Babak has been executed for a crime he did not commit.
As Mina battles for a public apology from the judges who erroneously served her husband’s death sentence, a stranger, Reza (Alireza Sani Far, “Dressage”), appears on her doorstep, saying that he has come to repay a debt he owes to Babak. As Reza helps her cope with the complications of her predicament, Mina gradually opens up to him, unaware of the terrible secret that binds them together. From Tehran, Moghaddam and Sanaeeha spoke to Variety about the complexities of bringing “Ballad of a White Cow” to the screen. Excerpts.
What drew you to this story?
Maryam Moghaddam: It’s inspired by my mother and her life. We developed the idea and wrote together over the course of nine years. It’s the story of many people, some of whom we know, in Iran and other countries which have the death penalty.
Behtash Sanaeeha: We interviewed people with similar cases. We did years of research. We interviewed judges, lawyers. We wrote and rewrote.
Mina is a strong character contending with consequences of the death penalty that go beyond the loss of her husband. Do you agree?
Moghaddam: Iranian women, contrary to what people in other countries may think, are very strong. Even stronger than men in Iran. On one level Mina is a typical Iranian woman with a factory job. But she is a single woman, and a widow, living in a misogynist society, and that aspect is not exaggerated. So things get more complicated for her because the traditional layer of our society tends to zero in on single women, to see what they are doing. They check if they are having a relationship with strange men. But she is not a victim. The two elements we wanted her to have are power and dignity.
Sanaeeha: We decided to show a different kind of [Iranian] woman in our film. In some Iranian films you see women who are weak under pressure; who are victimized. But we wanted someone who is strong. Who could put up a fight, for herself and her daughter. Someone who isn’t waiting to see what happens, but is fighting for her future and destiny.
Talk to me about the young actress who plays the deaf daughter. How did you find her?
Sanaeeha: We did close to 100 auditions. We auditioned some girls who were really deaf, and finally we selected Avin [Purraoufi], who is not deaf, but her parents are. So she knows sign language very well. Her mother taught Maryam sign language. They had great chemistry.