The White Meadows: A Review

In 2009 Director Mohammad Rasoulof was imprisoned for making The White Meadows. He was accused of “acting against national security and propaganda against the regime” and spent six years behind bars.

From the very beginning The White Meadows transports you to an otherworldly place. It is a stripped down landscape that contains just a few elements. Its a vision one might expect in a dream. It feels abstract, as if it hasn’t been fully rendered. The whole film takes place in this strange space. It imbues every scene with a mythological kind of monumentalism. Without much color or detail, or anything other than the bare essentials everything that takes place on the screen becomes the singular focus and therefore more significant.

To ad to the minimalism there is very little music and very little camera movement. Mostly there are long, still shots taken from detached, ungrounded viewpoints making us into aloof observers rather than first hand participants.

The film is really a series of four vignettes. Each story takes place on its own isolated island. The fifth location is on the main land and is more of a conclusion than a fifth vignette. The vignettes are tied together by our main character Rhamat who is rowing his small boat from place to place collecting people tears in a small blown glass bottle.

Each island provides a potent parable that makes no attempt to veil its social and political message. There is a simplicity and intimacy to the tales but just as in most mythological stories the personal details provide drama and interest but they easily fall away to reveal more universal messages about the nature of society, religion and justice. This is a very cleverly and delicately balanced movie that manages to negotiate micro and macro narratives seamlessly.

Without revealing too much about the film the last destination throws everything that came before it into question. The clarity of the metaphors is muddied and new space for broader questions opens up. Our hero’s goal’s and intentions are more fully illuminated leaving us unsure of his morality.

The dangerous nature of power is a theme that unites all of the fables. We see religious power, patriarchal power, governmental power as well as the power of superstition, and power of society’s pressure. You can easily see why the Iranian government felt threatened. There is always a small silver lining in censorship in that it recognizes the importance and power of art. In the 1990’s there was a campaign of T-shirts, posters and commercials that was intended to battle censorship with the slogan “Art Can’t Hurt You!” It might be better to be censored than to be pronounced impotent.

The White Meadows manages to be intimate while presenting social and political messages. It manages to minimal but strikingly beautiful. It is bleak but rich and poetic as well. It is a wonderfully skillful film with unforgettable images.

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I have an MFA in painting and I’m an art professor but I managed to convince my school to let me teach film.