Like his better-known compatriot Jafar Panahi, dissident Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof was recently arrested and convicted on the flimsiest of pretexts by the Tehran authorities. But while waiting to serve his prison sentence, he’s courageously turned out the most politically provocative film to emerge from today’s Iran.
There are no artful metaphors here. Instead, with clinical concentration, the action follows the daily grind of two hired killers working for the internal security service, as they track down and intimidate writers likely to fall foul of Islamic censorship strictures. Inspired by real-life events, including a decade-long campaign which took the lives of some 80 cultural opponents of the regime, Rasolouf’s film pulls no punches, yet offers a shaded, humane portrait of both its flawed artists and vile functionaries, which makes it art rather than outright propaganda.
Judged on conventional narrative terms, it’s undeniably hard going, taking far too long to gather momentum. Yet this isn’t just any film, but a stirring act of defiance, shot in secret on Iranian locations and using German interiors, with the credits removed to protect the identity of cast and crew…Rasoulof bravely excepted.