The White Meadows, a stinging neo-realist fable, looks like it’s set on an ashen, alien salt-planet of milky seas, white-sand deserts, caves like slavering animal mouths, and beaches so blank they must be purgatorial. But the allegorical criticisms that emerge from this lunar, lacunal landscape are clearly aimed at the real world—an impression buttressed by the news that writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof was arrested in Iran this March as part of a post-election program of intimidation.
Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) sails the pearly pale seas of Lake Urmia, hopping between islands in his rickety rowboat, collecting the locals’ tears in a playset-sized pitcher. And there are no shortages of tears—each locale’s hardscrabble inhabitants relate their heartaches, but Rahmat also witnesses his fair share: a shaved-hairless dwarf thrown down a well to appease the fairy imprisoned at the bottom; a virgin girl wedded to the sea (i.e. drowned); an artist, mad enough to paint the sea a color other than blue, blinded by monkey urine meant to “restore” his vision.
Rahmat, with an adolescent stowaway (Younes Ghazali) for a companion, wanders this aquatic trail of tears, moving between absurd and surreal set pieces, each illustrating lives sacrificed for strange superstitions. It’s the Face of Theocracy, driven home by a devastating, allegory-capping finale. In its wanderings laden with clear symbolic meaning, The White Meadows plays out like The Little Prince—except, since the setting is a veiled-in-fantasy Iran, the hero knows better than to ask any questions.
The White Meadows screens tonight at 6:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, May 1, at 7:00 p.m. More information here.