Notebook Reviews: Rafi Pitts’s “The Hunter”

The Hunter

Early in The Hunter, the brooding protagonist (played by writer-director Rafi Pitts, his face clenched like a fist) sets camp in the woods in the outskirts of Tehran, and the still, silent composition switches abruptly from day to night in the instant he takes to cock his rifle. Pitts, a chronicler of coiled despair with a limpid sense of negative space, maintains this terse combination of naturalism and impressionistic distillation as the taciturn character absorbs the injustices and tensions around him. The only job available for an ex-con is night watchman at a car factory, which leaves him with little time to see his wife and daughter. Set in the midst of Iran’s 2009 elections, the film sees the city as a procession of suffocating spaces—tunnels, industrial assembly lines, orphanages with endless rows of abandoned kids, narrow bureaucratic corridors—that can claim loved ones without batting an eye, as when an officer coolly informs Pitts that his wife was killed in a skirmish between the authorities and “insurgents.” (Two splendid shots: A high-angled view of a busy intersection at dusk, filmed with a distorting lens so that the four crossings are squeezed into a diamond shape; and a few seconds of a vehicle swerving in and out of the fog on a winding road, easily the most inventive car chase since Gray’s We Own the Night.) Yet the trajectory from city to wilderness isn’t one of contrasting corruption and purity as in Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, but one of different types of mazes and the emptiness that binds them. Fleeing into the forest after a shooting spree, the desperate protagonist is joined by a couple of Mutt and Jeff policemen whose irritated banter (“You’ve got a watch but no time! Where would you be without a uniform?”) voices with redundant explicitness what the images and editing have already articulated with subtlety and dread. The Hunter closes on tidy irony, but Pitts’s striking visual control ensures that the divide between institutionalized injustice and personal revenge remains volatile, thorny terrain.

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