Like an Iranian Falling Down, Rafi Pitts’ The Hunter pushes one man over the edge in a city seething with male anguish and state violence.
Night And Fog by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The Hunter opens on a pixellated close-up of a Manoocher Deghati photograph commemorating the first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Soldiers of the Revolutionary Guard sit hunched over their motorbikes revving noiselessly in front of a star-spangled banner painted on this street in Tehran. It’s a reminder of the values of Iran’s nascent Islamist republic – autonomous, anti-western, religious and popular. But also of a more contemporary violent undercurrent evoked by the Revolution’s pasdaran. And as the camera slowly pans out and the photograph becomes clearer, an unspoken question haunts the screen – where’s Iran’s revolution now?
With Rafi Pitts himself in the main role (after his lead actor failed to turn up to the first day of shooting) The Hunter begins in an industrial Tehran, simmering with tension. Ex-con Ali Alavi leaves the factory after his night shift as a security guard to hit the highway home while the muezzin brays over cars parked up in the lot. An atmosphere of latent violence seethes in steaming chimneys and growling traffic. And in one scene where Ali goes to a car-wash with his family, all rumbling rollers and smoking steam-clean, the air of danger is humidly palpable. And it’s a gendered existential malaise too, only kept at bay by the tender femininity of wife and daughter and regular hunting trips out of the city.
Teheran is a city like any other, but in The Hunter its violence pervades everything and everyone; both state and citizen, revolutionary and recluse. Even a visit to the funfair turns chilling when Ali’s wife tries her hand at the shooting range. Revolution has left a bloody legacy, and with Ali unable to swap off his night shift, he can’t spend enough time under his family’s humanising influence – easy prey to the violent city, his inevitable downfall predicted on a political broadcast on the car radio. The metamorphosis from family man to killer finally comes when his wife is shot in the cross-fire between demonstrators and Revolutionary Guards, a random act of violence – irredeemable and untraceable.
After spending hours at the police station anxious for his missing daughter, questioned and kept in the dark by suspicious police officers, only for her to turn up a few days later in the city morgue battered beyond recognition, Ali heads out of town in his leaf-green car. Finally silence, as he drives through the woods. Up above the city’s highways, he aims his crosshairs on the motorists below. Another random act of violence in retaliation against the world. Like hunting deer, indifferent to both cop and commoner. And Ali’s shot rings out, a catharsis from the white noise of living that sets Ali back on the wrong side of the law. Hopelessly, almost wilfully, he turns from hunter to hunted, as helicopters and police cars fervently set about avenging the death of their own. And as they pursue him, the forboding presence of these law enforcers is more than just the film’s empathy for a put-upon cop-killer, it’s a universal fear that’s finally found polite expression beyond the blue pencil of the censors.
Pursued through the forest in a car chase that lasts so long and in a fog that lifts so quickly it can only be metaphoric, Ali finds himself lost in a moral mist with two Tehranian sergeants in tow. Cuffed and bound, he’s brusquely shunted from actor to spectator in a war of words between the senior officer and the national service conscript. Wandering around in the rain with a limping prisoner, they argue over just shooting him and heading home or staying the course. It’s a testosterone-fuelled Waiting For Godot, bloodlust coursing their veins, with Ali little more than passive observer to their macho rutting, patsy to their backstabbing machinations. Until the final double-crossing stand-off, where the two cops turn out to be just as bloodthirsty and unlawful as their prisoner.
Dedicated to the memory of Bozorg Alavi, an Iranian writer and peace activist whose surname Ali shares, The Hunter is a complex metaphor on contemporary Iran’s ambience of violence. Pitts’ lead performance adds an extra frisson to the narrative – the director shooting his film, pursued angrily by warring officials. Whether Pitts is good enough in the role is a question that lingers over 90 minutes, but as a deadpan everyman, he’s every bit as good as his habitually non-professional actors. With bloody demonstrations soon after filming over Ahmadinejad’s re-election, Rafi Pitts’ film seems particularly apt – capturing a moment in history when the question over who the Revolutionary Guards are protecting looms large. It’s a gloomy, existential, ethical fog, but The Hunter pounds with a violent heartbeat.
The Hunter is released in the UK on 29th October 2010