There’s something about the dramatic ringtone of Soodeh Sharifzadegan’s phone that adds the perfect layer of tension to an already anxiety-ridden film. The ringtone that sounds almost like the beginnings of a dramatically tragic score serves to remind us constantly of the knife hanging over Soodeh’s head. In Kazem Mollaie’s The Badger, Vishka Asayesh’s Soodeh is hit with the sudden kidnapping of her only child on the eve of her second marriage.
The power of The Badger is in its pacing. Coming in at a svelte 93 minutes, we watch as Soodeh races around Tehran on the eve of Eid al-Adha (the Islamic holy day) trying to gather up enough money from the various people in her life in order to convert to bitcoins so she can save her son. The mystery behind the motive of the kidnappers is the main drive of the film, but for Soodeh, nothing matters beyond getting back her son. She might have some ideas of who the perpetrators are, but she’s more than willing to cooperate rather than wait for the slow-acting police.
We follow her as she confronts her estranged father, her ex-husband, the officials in her neighborhood, and watches as she charges forward, a woman on a mission. Asayesh is immensely talented as Soodeh, embodying a woman who might seem collected on the surface but is a roiling ocean of emotion beneath the surface. As her desperation rises, so too does her impulsiveness. The pride that she holds onto soon becomes an obstacle to her goals and we watch as she makes the decision to set aside anything in her desperation to find her son. And we, in turn, are as eager as she is.
When the dust finally settles, the third act brings with it some surprising and confusing reveals. The ultimate disappointment is that perhaps 91 minutes is not enough for The Badger. I finished the film yelling, “What!?” at the screen, wanting to know more, wanting to spend more time with Soodeh as she gets her answers. Perhaps for some, that ending will be what turns them off of this story, but it does not overshadow all the beautiful suspense that Mollaie has built up in the film. The Badger is an intense thriller that keeps you questioning the truth until the end, and all while offering a glimpse at modern Iran without a judgmental Western eye.
This film review is based on a screening from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Photo Courtesy of Visual Communications.