The success of The Hunter as a quietly effective if existentialist piece of suspense should not be underestimated.
Opening with a photograph taken in 1980 by Manoocher Deghati in which members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard celebrate the first anniversary of the Iranian Revolution atop their motorbikes, The Hunter is a first-rate political thriller (dedicated to the celebrated Iranian writer and political intellectual Bozorg Alavi) which uses the picture to frame the tense situation of Ali, our taciturn lead.
Potently addressing the current situation in Iran, and the question of whether the generation that includes director Rafi Pitts has had the Revolution stolen from it, The Hunter ranks alongside Persepolis as one of the most remarkable recent examples of Iranian cinema. And yet the film also feels incredibly universal. In its sense of intrigue, unrest and corruption in high places, it perhaps has more in common with a number of iconic American films of the 1970s.
Recently released from prison, Ali (played by Pitts himself) returns home amidst talk of the upcoming elections and promises of change. When not spending time with his wife (Mitra Hajjar) and young daughter, he retreats to his favourite pastime of hunting in the secluded forest north of town. But after tragedy strikes in a police shoot-out with demonstrators, Ali’s horror pushes him over the edge. A series of violent events returns him to the forest alongside two police officers, but when his warring captors lose their way in the woods, the line between hunter and hunted becomes difficult to define.
Pitts shot the film during the 2009 election campaign in an attempt to convey the pre-election energy in the country and to convey, as it most explicitly does through its tightly wound central character, the notion of a ticking time-bomb society. The Hunter also makes fantastic use of its two distinct environments: the urban and isolating Tehran, defined by its Los Angeles-inspired highways; and the forests near the Caspian Sea where Ali forages and hunts, until finally finding something of himself following the trauma he has suffered.
Filmed during the winter months, The Hunter’s muted tones perfectly replicate Ali’s subdued mood as he shuttles back and forth in his matte green car. Minimalism has been a watchword for this confident, intelligent and distinctive filmmaker, and in his pared-down aesthetic, introspection and nominal dialogue Pitts, exhibits echoes of Jean-Pierre Melville and recalls Walter Hill’s The Driver.
The success of The Hunter as a quietly effective if existentialist piece of suspense should not be underestimated. Screened at Berlin, where it went largely unappreciated by critics, this is a nuanced, multi-layered and effortlessly cool work that deals not only with politics and the moral order but also interrogates the notion of censorship, social mores and religious values.
The follow-up to the contemplative It’s Winter.
Exerts a vice-like grip from the very first frame.
Seemingly destined to go largely under-appreciated, this is a work of precision and complexity.