Urban Alienation And Dystopian Filmmaking

Urban Alienation And Dystopian Filmmaking

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Artificial Eye 

Release date: February 28th 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 92 minutes
Original language: Farsi

Director: Rafi Pitts

Cast: Rafi Pitts, Mitra Hajjar, Javad Nazari

The Hunter is a Neo-Realist Western, by the report of its expatriated director Rafi Pitts.

Despite the opposition of these genres- the one a left-wing avant-garde form of cinema which seeks to represent the suffering of the working class in all its boredom and banality, and the other quite unequivocally not- with the right kind of squint you might just make out his description. And what’s more, to some extent the combination works.

The Hunter

The award-winning Iranian filmmaker, exiled in Paris since the 1990s, is also ad hoc star of this onerous and dimly allegorical tale. The actor originally cast to play Alavi- whose namesake, writer and communist Bozorg Alavi, the film is dedicated to- turned up six hours late to the first day of filming and was precipitately replaced by Pitts himself.

He plays Ali Alavi, a man cast from the moulds of Kafka and Lynch, in whom only an uncanny expressionlessness can compete with total abjection. He has been detained at the Ayatollah’s pleasure for an unspecified (but one suspects political) crime. On his release, he gets a job as a night watchman at a Peugeot assembly line- reluctant though he is to forego time with his family.

When he learns that his wife and young daughter have been shot dead during a clash between police and protesters in the run-up to an “election” (there are excerpts from certain speeches which apparently situate the film in 2009), Alavi’s almost imperceptible grief almost imperceptibly develops into either a desire for retribution or nihilistic madness- and we certainly cannot tell from his inscrutable demeanour which it is. Whatever the condition, it expresses itself by using a long-range hunting rifle to take aim at passing cars from an elevated position, with the corollary of two dead policemen.

The Hunter

Following a car chase, the only recognisable Hollywoodism in the entire film, and well executed too, Alavi finds himself lost in the wintery forestland of Northern Iran with two alarmingly quarrelsome and unpredictable armed policemen. From here the story becomes quite strange, slightly implausible and more signally allegoric.

There is something about totalitarian states which seems to nurture avant-garde cinema, and I suspect that at least part of that something is censorship. The oblique and sublimated has to suffice to express any unorthodox or unauthorized ideas- but despite his efforts here Pitts is doubtful that this film will win the approval of the powers that be in his home country. It is nevertheless an exceptionally demanding and intractable film. The austerity of the cinematography, for example, is exacting: shots that last fewer than thirty seconds are very infrequent during the first hour.

The Hunter

In The Hunter’s vision, Tehran is a nightmare of urban alienation, all frantic highways and looming industrial complexes, captured in the etiolated tones of dystopian filmmaking; and it seeks to represent this formally by resisting entertainment.

Dialogue is sparse, the tempo is about as slow as it could be and the narrative is at the least uncooperative and at worst esoterically opaque. It adds up to some anxious viewing. This might be exquisite or extremely vexing depending on your inclination. I can’t say that I enjoyed it on first viewing, but it’s certainly an interesting watch.

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