With The Hunter (2010), director Rafi Pitts continues to spearhead the self-proclaimed ‘Iranian New Wave’ with another masterfully executed poetic-realist work that inhabits the same multifaceted Iran presented in Pitt’s previous feature It’s Winter (2006), albeit with a leaner, harsher approach to character and narrative.
Pitt writes, directs and takes the eponymous role of Ali, an ex-convict whose second chance at peaceful conformity is shattered with the accidental death of his wife in a police shootout with demonstrators. It is undetermined whether the bullet came from police or protester.
With the collected calm of a man with nothing more to lose, Ali takes his rifle, positioning himself on an embankment overlooking the motorway, and fires two precise rounds into the windscreen of a police vehicle – a disconcertingly familiar cultural and political disenchantment that many American film makers have explored in films as wide ranging as Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968) to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003). Pursued by police into the forest, the perfectly orientated Ali allows the men to lose their way and the line between hunter and hunted becomes difficult to define as personal and political tensions simmer.
Formally, The Hunter is a masterpiece, with Mohammad Davudi’s painterly cinematography supplying a visual foundation for the occasionally lax pacing of Pitts’ direction. The film opens with the assured confidence of a director in complete control of his medium, the camera scanning across Manoocher Deghati’s iconic photograph of the triumphant Islamic Revolutionary Guard donning their motorcycles in celebration of the first anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
The stylish zeal of the opening is immediately undermined by the solemnity of the proceedings, the emotionally and aesthetically muted presentation of contemporary Iran suggesting that the values the revolution was fought for have long since been disregarded, if not forgotten entirely. In fact, much of the film’s effectiveness is derived from its keen understanding of juxtaposition and its emotional potential. Performance-wise, Pitts does little in the way of emoting, the contours of his face suggesting a life lived and sights seen, adopting a hypnotic inertness akin to that of latter day Bill Murray.
Pitts never overtly signposts any of the film’s thematic concerns, scrupulously crafting an apoliticism that pervades the film, unfolding almost entirely in dispassionate master shot to cultivate an impression of political and moral objectivity, even during the more shocking episodes. The desperation of the film’s finale is counterbalanced entirely by the vibrancy and clear fondness with which the director shoots the city and his character’s familial happiness in the opening sections, which presents a complex, pertinent and deeply felt portrait of the Tehran-born film-maker’s developing homeland. Set and shot in the months preceding the 2010 election, the film acts as a call for political reform as well as an appraisal of the unique and beautiful cultural elements that make such radical change worth fighting for.
Largely ignored at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, it is disappointing that a film of such craft will almost certainly go unnoticed by the wide majority of English-speaking audiences. One of the best films of 2010 and certainly a commendable exercise in narrative restraint, both visually and in terms of its political ideology, The Hunter is a movie that should be hunted down and cherished as the work of a master film maker, as well as a timely cultural window into contemporary Iran.