The Hunter (Shekarchi)
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 dead-end job as a factory night watchman, ex-con Ali (Rafi Pitts) is devoted to his wife (Mitra 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 dissent.
Rafi Pitts, Mitra Hajjar Sara, Ali Nicksaulat, Hassan Ghalenoi, Manoochehr Rahimi, Ismail Amini, Nasser Madahi
Persian dialogue with English subtitles