Two words guaranteed to strike fear in my dark little heart are Iranian Cinema. Tortuously
slow and often willfully obtuse, over the years I’ve sat through more
Iranian films than I care to think about that have made me want to open
up a vein and arc my own blood at the screen just to relieve the tedium.
The absolute nadir came for me with Mr Sandman Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin.
The cinematic equivalent of a chloroform-soaked handkerchief, Shirin
eschews anything so mundane as a narrative in favour of presenting a
succession of static shots of Iranian women’s faces (and Juliette Binoche who also stars in Kiarostami’s latest slide down the Glasgow Coma Scale, Certified Copy)
as they stare directly at the camera while watching an unseen film. For
90 minutes! Films like Shirin are enough to convince you that Iran has
decided to bring down Western Civilisation by boring us to death. While it’s no Inception, The Hunter (Shekarchi) refreshingly bucks this trend.
Stuck in a deadend job as a factory night watchman, ex-con Ali (Pitts) is devoted to his wife (Hajjar Sara)
and young daughter. Struggling to make ends meet, only Ali’s frequent
hunting trips outside the city offer him the chance to relax. Returning
home one day however he finds his wife and daughter are missing. He
waits nervously for them and when they don’t return he contacts the
police only to discover that they were caught up in a street
demonstration against the oppressive regime and were accidentally killed
when the police opened fire on the crowd of demonstrators. His world
destroyed, Ali snaps, targeting the police in an indiscriminate act of violence: he takes his rifle to the motorway and, targeting a police car, opens fire in a doomed attempt at retribution.
While many Iranian films still open with the Islamic Call to Prayer, The
Hunter opens with Rhys Chatham’s apocalyptic Guitar Trio, a sonic wall
of noise crashing over the audience. Not content with writing and
directing the film, Pitts also puts in an intense, driven performance as
Ali, a human time bomb, whose rage and frustration boils over into
violence after the death of his family. By striking out at the police,
Pitts’ Ali is striking out at the corruption and oppression permeating
Iranian society. His Tehran is an oppressive, impersonal, industrial
maze, a vision of Hell reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Lean and spare, The Hunter is strikingly shot and Pitts’ direction is a tight, minimalist exercise in tension.
Angry, passionate and intelligent, The Hunter is much more than a
Persian retread of Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, it’s a raw howl of