Review - The Hunter

an edited version is published in Cine-Vue

The Hunter

Directed by Rafi Pitts

Iran/Germany 92 mins

UK release Date: 29 October 2010

Ali works nights as a security guard in a car factory. When he tries to change to the day shift so that he can spend more time with his wife and daughter, his boss tells him flatly no. Ali is lucky to have the job, the boss points out, particularly as he has only recently been released from prison. “What would happen if I worked days?” Ali retorts. In just this one short scenario, Iranian-British director Rafi Pitts immediately establishes the terrifyingly Kafkaesque world which Ali inhabits.

The Hunter (Shekarchi) is Pitts’ follow-up to his acclaimed 2006 film It's Winter (Zemestan). Again, we are in Iran, just before the elections. Progress is evident in the vast cranes that dominate the skyline, but the film’s opening shots reveal Tehran to be a concrete jungle, bleached of colour. There are endless traffic jams on its numerous highways, an unnerving cacophony of noise and a noticeable police presence.  When Ali and his family visit a local fairground, the gaudiness of the colours is startling.

Even the forest where Ali spends his free time hunting is a desolate landscape, the trees stripped of leaves. The only significant colour is the green car Ali drives, its radio tuned in to Ayatolloah Khamenei’s addresses in the lead-up to the elections.

It is already a bleak life, but when Ali loses his wife and daughter, apparently “caught in the crossfire between police and insurgents”, the full power of the state becomes starkly apparent. The callousness of the police who keep him waiting for hours before telling him of his wife’s death, the endless bureaucracy he struggles against when searching for his daughter, the wretchedness of the morgue where he has to identify his wife and daughter all conspire to send Ali over the edge. Finally, armed with his hunting rifle, Ali takes a sniper’s position overlooking the highway and kills two cops, before being forced on the run.

The pace of the film than ratchets up with helicopters thundering overhead and a car chase up a foggy mountainside proving particularly memorable.

As well as directing and writing the screenplay, Pitts also stars in The Hunter. Apparently on the first day of shooting the lead actor turned up six hours late and unwilling to take any further risk, Pitts took on the role of Ali himself. As an actor, Pitts has a particular stillness and a brooding presence. His lean, haggard face and dark hollow eyes perfectly capture the anguish of a man, who finds himself hounded both spiritually and emotionally. As a director, Pitts’ style is reminiscent of Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami - in particular his long, single takes - while Mohammad Davudi’s cinematography demonstrates a similar talent for capturing the essence of a place through carefully framed shots.

Somehow, you know from the start that Ali is done for. The film opens with a terrifying image. It is the iconic photograph of the Pasadaran (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard) on motorbikes celebrating the first anniversary of the Revolution. They are about to ride roughshod over a painted image of the American flag.

Over thirty years have gone by since the Revolution. Many Iranians had hoped that it would bring change and progress to their country. Public Enemy No. 1 may still be the US but, Pitts’ film suggests, those that are hunted down no are often ordinary Iranians struggling to get by or those caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Hunter is a powerful evocation of an oppressive state, of a people who are as likely to suffer at the hands of their fellow countrymen, than from any outside force, and a superb political drama.