Secret Ballot (Raye makhfi)



It’s Election Day on an out-of-the-way, Farsi-speaking island. The ballot box has been dropped by a passing plane, and the government agent (Nassim Abdi) has been dropped off from a passing boat. A soldier (Cyrus Ab), ordered to assist in collecting ballots, meets the agent at the beach, but is ready to abandon all when he realizes they’ve sent a woman. The agent resorts to threats in order to get his help, and the two begin a long day searching for potential voters among the island’s isolated pockets of people.

In this follow-up to his first feature film, One More Day, Iranian director Babak Payami calls upon all the fundamental problems inherent in choosing one or two candidates to represent the needs of the many, and exhibits the flaws of democracy for our consideration. When the soldier questions the idealistic agent about voting eligibility, she propounds, “Yes, everyone can vote. Every citizen has rights, even smugglers.” He retorts, “If those crooks vote, I’ll be out of a job!” The agent rationalizes, “That’s irrelevant. The voting process helps countries improve.”

Sure, it all looks good on paper, but try convincing people who’ve never stepped off their farm that candidates they’ve never met, and who live hundreds of miles away, know what’s good for them.

Much of the film is composed of lengthy scenes shot from a distance. Payami’s cinematic tactic is effective in demonstrating that events on this island take a long time to transpire. For the agent and the soldier, waiting becomes part of the action — and for us, the extra time and distance allow plenty of room for contemplation of the significance, absurdities and/or insignificance of the electoral process.

In this desert region with so little life to look at, the agent and the soldier’s actions, along with their subsequent meanings, are magnified. As a result, Payami gets his point across long before the film ends, with a message that can’t help but hit us over the head, over and over ...


Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to

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