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In Iran, capital punishment is carried out according to Islamic law, which gives the family of the victim ownership of the offender's life. Day Break, based on a compilation of true stories and shot inside Tehran's century-old prison, revolves around the imminent execution of Mansour, a man found guilty of murder. When the family of the victim repeatedly fails to show up on the appointed day, Mansour's execution is postponed again and again. Stuck inside the purgatory of his own mind, he waits as time passes on without him, caught between life and death, retribution and forgiveness. Facing the gallows everydayâ€”will he succeed in maintaining his sanity?
May 5, 2005
By John Nesbit
Since the last Islamic revolution in Iran, Islamic law has replaced former secular law. When applied to capital punishment, this means that families are granted ownership of the offender's life—they can take retribution or can offer forgiveness. This forms the background for Producer/Director/Writer Hamid Rahmanian's intriguing Day Break (Dame sobh), recently released on DVD through Film Movement.
Set in Tehran's century-old prison the film opens inside the mind of Mansour (Hossein Yari), as we see one of many flashbacks—marvelous footage of a train journey through the green countryside of northern Iran into a tunnel and the morning of Mansour's crime. He's unquestionably committed murder, but now his life hangs in the balance depending on what the victim's family decides. Mansour is awakened at daybreak for a medical exam (no sick person can be executed), and he is scheduled to face the victim's family for the third time; they did not show up the previous two times.
Mansour and another death row inmate enter the execution room. Only one bench is filled—Mansour's final judges have yet to make their appearance, but he is assured that the family is on the way. That gives us all a chance to see Islamic justice at work. Confronted by an embittered family member who appears set on retribution, the condemned murderer sobs and begs for his life. The judge also implores the family to consider granting mercy to no avail; the prisoner continues to pitifully plea for his life. It's almost a relief for the man to be ordered to step up for his hanging, but at the very last instant a bargain is struck—his life in exchange for his house and property to be used for an orphanage. After witnessing mostly negative media coverage about Islamic justice, it's quite refreshing to see a different view—a humanistic way of allowing the victims to act as the final judge.
Meanwhile, Mansour learns that his execution has once again been postponed. A phone call from the family informs that there was a death in the family, so they must wait the traditionally prescribed 40 days before attending to Mansour's pending execution. While this news is usually cause for celebration, Mansour sees this as worse than death. The continual state of purgatory has been working on his mind, much like Dostoevsky's psychological study in Crime and Punishment.
Rahmanian masterfully takes us inside Mansour's mind via flashbacks and his day to day existence inside the prison; he rehashes past turning points like the decision he makes for the family to move from their village to Tehran, and becomes more and more withdrawn to the point of becoming suicidal. It's a psychological struggle that we all can relate to; we've all done something that we've regretted. This shows how obsessive the guilty mind can become and how difficult it can be to move on with Life. Of course, Mansour is physically confined, but this is far less important than the emotional/spiritual restrictions that he places on himself. That much makes the film universal.
Paying homage to Iran's greatest filmmaker, Rahmanian offers recognizable touches of Abbas Kiaroastami's work—most noticeably near the beginning when the medical examiner narrates a portion. Cinematographer Byrom Fazli's minimalist camera follows the examiner inside a moving car, and soon we confront the prison guards to create a "film within a film." When they examine the credentials and granted permissions for the project called Day Break, the filmmaker is allowed inside, and the remainder of the film flows seamlessly through its well-paced 85 minutes. Some American audiences may feel uncomfortable with the "ambiguous" ending, but if they watch close enough, they should realize that the ending is of little importance—it's the journey that is worth watching. It signals onc
--John Nesbit/ Culture Cartel - Review
September 9, 2005
By Robert Koehler
A condemned man's wrenching wait for his own execution works like a ticking time bomb in Hamid Rahmanian's flawed but impressive debut feature, "Day Break." As many Iranian cineastes are cleverly managing, Rahmanian takes the basis of an actual Islamic law -- permitting the family of a murder victim to personally carry out the execution of the convicted murderer -- as profound material for a spare and almost unbearably tense drama. Tautness and single-minded focus will serve the pic well as buyers consider it for various upscale territories, possibly including the U.S.
Awakened on what appears to be the day of his execution in Tehrans aging, decrepit Ghasr prison, Mansour (Hossein Yari, in a thoroughly dominating perf) looks like a dead man walking. But even as a fellow condemned man is hanged, the family of his murder victim fails to appear; he can only be executed, or spared, at the behest of the family. Their absence only prolongs his unsettled fate.
Process is guaranteed to shock Western auds unaware of internal Iranian law, raising yet again the terrible irony that what is certainly backward and repressive for Iranian citizens is dramatic fodder for Iranian storytellers.Docu vet Rahmanian's attempt to depict Mansour's situation as a documentary, complete with hand-held cameras and filming equipment crowding in on the execution chamber never convinces. But it's dispensed with after the first reel, giving way to a marvelously tense focus on Mansour, his day-to-day existence in the prison (looking like the male version of the setting in "Women's Prison") and his thoughts back on his civilian life and the killing that sent him here in the first place. Little exposition is verbalized, making "Day Break" a fine example of a cinematic investigation of one man's thoughts.
There's little doubt Mansour is guilty, but the inhuman torture of postponing his day of decision again and again and again has the effect of upstaging his terrible act. Yari brilliantly humanizes this man trapped between his own sense of guilt and an existential condition that screams out for release -- either the family's pardon, or their carrying out his sentence.
With Byrom Fazli's brown-hued lensing and Ebramim Saeedi's sharp editing, pic effectively shifts between the sepulchral conditions of the prison and Mansour's memories of the outside world.
--Robert Koehler/ Variety - Review
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