Review: Dede

Review: Dede

In an age post the #MeToo movement a film that deals with such harsh and archaic societal structures as Mariam Khatchvani’s Dede should standout as an interesting study of life away from the Western world, in which isolated communities abide by their own strict rules and law, viewed as backwards when compared to our societal norms.

The scariest part of Dede is perhaps not the differences it displays but the uncomfortable similarities. Ultimately, we’re not all that different, and that kind of sucks. Telling the story of a young woman who tries to rebel against the centuries old traditions that govern her homeland, and the trials she must face as a result, Dede seems almost prized to be at the forefront of many a conversation in the modern world. Unfortunately, despite some nice visual storytelling and an engaging central premise, the film is more concerned with unfolding in an almost traditional narrative way than it is truly exploring the ideas on display.

The picture Dede paints is a dark and almost harrowing one. Women have no say in this world, and men are at the top of the societal structure. And while it, at first appears to be going down a fascinating and unpredictable route, it quickly resolves itself to fall back on almost tired and overused tropes. The new lens by which these tropes are projected doesn’t so much reveal new ideas as it does highlight the old ones. But then, maybe that’s the point.

What makes Dede interesting, I suppose, is the way in which it frames its heroine, Dina. She isn’t so much a revolutionary figure making grand statements and fighting for all women’s rights as she is simply someone who dares question the normality of the world she finds herself. Her acts of “revolution” are small and almost un-noteworthy.

To say I didn’t enjoy Dede is to give it a disservice, I found myself captivated and gripped by much of the film. The opening is engaging and grabs your attention, and quickly the film establishes its central ideas and premise. I didn’t find myself losing interest in the plot so much as I did grow frustrated with it. Frustrated not just for the characters journey – and the outdated ridiculousness of many of the traditions on display – but for the fact that the film doesn’t seem to really challenge these ideas as much as it does simply present them and then move on, relying heavily on cliché and coincidence to move itself forward.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with this, and often a film need only present its themes without offering up any sort of answer. Maybe that’s all Dede aims to do, but for me I came away feeling almost hollow by the experience. Yes, this is terrible, and I know that. But what now?

The cast are all on point and give good performances, which is impressive considering they were almost entirely non-professionals. They, along with the gritty realism with which Khatchvani captures the entire thing, give the film a sense of urgency and believability that can make for difficult viewing at times. It’s almost unflinching in its portrayal of struggle, and a lesser film might shy away from taking such an honest approach. I’ve got to give the film credit here for sticking by its style. The audience are put in an almost helpless, voyeuristic position. We watch these things unfold and then there’s nothing we can do about them.

Perhaps, then, that’s why it ultimately winds up feeling so empty. We can do nothing not because the film refuses to offer up any answers or solutions but rather because unless we keep fighting and unless people like our lead character in Dede keep trying to stand up to these old and harmful traditions there simply isn’t anything we can do.

Dede is a hard film to watch, and that’s not an accident. It isn’t that it’s violent or that it’s gruesome or that it’ll have you turning away from the screen at the horrors unfolding, it’s that it’s truth. Plain, simple, horrible truth that one can’t just ignore any longer.

As the ragged and shaky presentation of the first half gives way to the more serene and powerful imagery on display in the second, so to does the film leave us with it’s most unsettling and disconcerting thought. There isn’t a happy ending for the wronged heroine of Dede, as is often the case for so many tragic female figures. Perhaps later in her career Khatchvani might find the confidence to present her ideas with more strength, but as it stands Dede’s message is as clear as it needs to be. Bad things happen, and if we sit and watch they’ll continue to do so.

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Alex Secker is a writer/director/editor. His debut feature film, the micro-budget thriller Follow the Crows, won Best Independent Film at the Global Film Festival Awards, while his stage-play, The Door, won the People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Swinge Festival.


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