Austin Film Festival 2020 Review: THE BADGER

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From Iran comes a stressful and gripping drama that can has great writing, even greater direction and superb performances by the talented actors in the cast. Writer/director Kazem Mollaie uses a tension-filled abduction story to a make a commentary on the world today. This is actually the only foreign-language movie that I was able to watch from this year’s lineup, but I am definitely grateful that I selected it. It is one of the top films that I watched from AFF 2020.

In Tehran, Iran, forty-something, single mother Soodeh (Vishka Asayesh) already has her hands full working full-time and raising her only son Matiar when a highly stressful and trying situation arises. Matiar gets abducted by mysterious assailants who demand a hefty ransom for his life. Already strapped for money and continuously struggling to make ends meet, Vishka must seek help from mulitiple friends, family and estranged people in her life to guarantee her son’s return. As her life seems to be falling apart, her beloved home also slowly crumbles, as it has a serious termite infestation.

I cannot say that The Badger is the most stressful film I have ever seen, but it is certainly quite tense. Through Soodeh, fillmmaker Kazem Mollaie honors and celebrates the strength, passion, and determination that women must have in order to protect what is dearest to them. Though she must struggle, soul search, swallow her pride and humble herself to seek help, it is that strength and will that helps her endure. Mollaie’s approach to the direction is tastefully simplistic and elemental. He, cinematographer Majid Gorjian, and editor Babak Ghaem work wonders in capturing multiple facets of various settings while maintainin the buzz of activity and the tension of the scenarios.

In keeping with the mostly steady pace of the film, the cast members give tremendous performances and never miss a step. The absolute breakout star of the film is Vishka Asayesh whose tremendous portrayal of Soodeh is the real heart and soul of the film. It is a turn that displays a wide range of emotions that such a situation (in real life) would certainly elicit. Soodeh never comes across as overly likable, but is never truly hateful. It is a character realization that plays genuinely and is multi-dimensional.

Going into this movie, I was expecting another run-of-the-mill, by the numbers kidnapping story. The Badger is so much more than that. Though it has some familiarities, it never overplays or oversells the drama. Everything falls into place so naturally and realistically. And the movie definitely has one of those unforgettable endings that stays with you long after the film has concluded.

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