2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Sunday, February 02, 2003

Secret Ballot

A crate lands on a remote island off the coast of Iran. (I believe it’s in the Arabian Sea or the Gulf of Oman from the number of waves.) There is a strange structure which turns out to be a mattress with a sunshade above it. No sign of life. The viewer starts lengthening his attention span.

Finally a soldier finds the box and discovers that it contains a voting box and orders to wait for a government agent to come. He wakes up the man on the mattress and takes his place, shunting the guarding job to him. The two men are there to stop smuggling, so this second soldier is not too pleased to have to take time off from his job to help the agent.

Finally the government agent arrives, and, astonishingly, the agent is a woman. Impossible! The guard is shocked. But she finally convinces him. You see, in these remote areas, instead of having people travel to the voting booth, the government sends agents to take the voting box to them. Since the area is remote and may be dangerous, the agent needs a guard, especially since she is a woman, and, as we find out, that makes a big difference.

The film follows her and the guard around the island as they collect the votes of bewildered, confused, and reluctant voters. She has to be back at the beach at 5:00 to be collected or the votes will be void, but the day is mostly unhurried. That’s basically the whole movie; it turns into a travelogue. It comes close to being plotless, and for a while I thought it was. The plot is in the interstices.

This is an odd movie by western standards. We learn very little about the woman’s background, other than she is from the big city. We never even learn her name. She wears long, flowing robes and a black cloak, so that all we see is her face and hands. For all that she is a chatterbox, she really doesn’t give much information about herself. We realize that she is an idealist, that she has a naïve appreciation of the ability of people to improve themselves through the voting booth through their representatives, even if many of them don’t even know for whom they’re voting. (Pat Buchanan got 6000 votes in this precinct.) She is a walking challenge to stereotypes. We learn that a woman is not permitted to collect votes, a woman is not permitted to drive, a woman cannot enter a certain part of a cemetery, that a woman cannot vote for herself, that a woman cannot talk to a man unless her man is present, etc., etc. Except, of course, when the stereotypes are broken. We learn that women are veiled even when they don’t wear the veil. (Most of the women are not veiled in the movie.)

We also learn that at least one woman runs her own government in one part of the island. We also learn that, for an island that really doesn’t seem that large and is desolate, that there are a bewildering number of subcultures existing together. I remember how isolation is one of the creative forces behind the creation of species, and that islands are the home to many unique and strange species.

We learn how idealism compromises when faced with reality, and how practicality is transformed when confronted with idealism.

Secret Ballot is not going to be to many people’s taste. If you like a straightforward story, close to the surface, this may bore you. A sort of love develops between the soldier and the woman, but again it is understated. There are lots of little mysteries, like what a red light is doing in a crossroads in the middle of a desert. (I just realized the symbolism of that scene as I was writing that sentence—the plot is indeed in the interstices.) A lot of these mysteries are probably not mysteries if you’re Iranian. I spent a lot of the movie wondering what on earth the herd animals found to eat in this wilderness.

A word on an odd habit of the director. I mentioned that long first shot and how long it takes for something to happen. There are a number of scenes like that. For some reason, he likes to shoot some scenes from a long distance away, so that (at least on the DVD), the people are tiny and it’s difficult to see what’s going on. I assume this effect is intentional and I hope he (or is it she) gets over it soon.