No Date, No Signature” begins on a regular night for its central character Dr. Nariman (played by Amir Aghaee). Driving down quiet Iranian streets after a day’s work as a forensic pathologist, he expects a peaceful rest ahead. But fate has other plans for him as a seemingly minor collision has serious repercussions in this powerful drama from director Vahid Jalilvand.

Like Dr. Nariman, audiences will hardly anticipate what lies ahead in “No Date, No Signature”. Indeed, the opening accident – involving a motorbike carrying a small family – is so harmless that Dr. Nariman is soon engaging in friendly conversation with the affected son while the father attempts to mend the bike. Subsequently agreeing to compensation, both parties then go their separate ways, hoping to move on from this unfortunate incident. But when the same young boy turns up dead at Dr. Nariman’s hospital a few days later, people begin to ask questions. However, there are no easy answers as a complicated blame game begins, pointing far and wide to devastating effect.

Indeed, this unfortunate tragedy spins a sticky web of guilt that seems to clings to everyone surrounding it, as an autopsy and Dr. Nariman’s conscience propose contrasting causes of death. From its innocuous opening, the screenplay gradually escalates the tension, establishing links between multiple characters without ever feeling contrived. And thanks to the rich dialogue and some shrewd directorial choices, the plot thickens with palpable class issues which divide the characters. Yet through it all, a compelling air of mystery is maintained, even as the narrative peels back the layers of each characters’ psyche.

“No Date, No Signature” truly thrives on its ambiguity, showcasing Jalilvand’s impressive knack for dramaturgy. In the vein of his countryman, Asghar Farhadi’s similarly ensemble-driven melodramas, the film is powered by its intricate screenwriting and passionate performances. There’s not a single weak link in the cast, with Navid Mohammedzadeh and Zakiyeh Behbahani giving particularly harrowing performances as the grief-stricken parents. Every actor gets to dig into their role, through riveting interactions encompassing vulnerable confessions, heartbreaking discussions, and furious confrontations.

Admittedly, the conundrum of the film’s central dilemma eventually starts to lose its intrigue. But the journey towards the conclusion is a rollercoaster of raw emotion that deftly lays bare the fragility of humanity. Indeed, while there may not be an Asghar Farhadi film in this year’s Foreign Language Oscar race, “No Date, No Signature” proves to be the next best thing. As a filmmaker’s sophomore effort, it is a resounding testament to the wealth of talent in contemporary Iranian cinema.

“No Date, No Signature” is now playing in select theaters.

GRADE: (★★★)