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The Hunter -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- Iranian/British director Rafi Pitts, who trained and made his first film in France, follows up his 2006 Berlin competition film "It's Winter" ("Zemestan") with "The Hunter" ("Shekarchi"), a lesser effort altogether. The familiar Iranian-style minimalist long-take is still much in evidence, but nothing quite jells in the new film, and audiences will wait in vain for a satisfying emotional, political or thematic payoff.

It's gorgeously shot, and the weight of the Iranian present can be palpably felt, but for most viewers this will not be enough. As such it is difficult to envision robust sales on any level, though festival programmers should definitely give it a look, as it's impeccable on a purely formal level.
 

Ali (played by Pitts) is a former prisoner who is forced to work as a night watchman, keeping him from spending time with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. One morning he comes home to find his family missing. After spending fruitless hours at the police station he discovers that his wife has been accidentally killed in a crossfire between "insurgents" (a code word for dissidents?) and the police. When he finds out after days of searching that his daughter has been killed as well, he goes berserk and shoots several policemen with a hunting rifle fired down onto the freeway from the top of a distant hill.

"The Hunter" nods in a political direction early on, with Ali's car radio blaring warnings (presumably by current president Ahmadinejad) that the populace will be forced to accept things as they are, not as they might want them to be. This establishes a potentially fruitful context for Ali's actions, but it's only briefly mentioned and never developed further. The indirect critique continues later in a different guise when Ali is arrested by two policemen who bicker constantly, one of whom is corrupt and the other of whom is a soldier who has been dragged unwillingly into service.

Everything in this film is admirably stripped down to essentials and pregnant with potential meaning. (It's so minimalist that virtually everything that happens is spelled out in the festival catalog entry, something that won't happen here.) And while emotions may have terrible consequences they are seldom visible on a human face.

Pitts the actor has amazing control and can show nothing and everything at once. Pitts the director also has a great eye for striking locations that ratify and promise to extend the themes that appear to lie just below the surface. One of these becomes clear when Ali, the supposed criminal and murderer, shows more humanity than the police officers who want to use him to get rid of each other. Beyond this, though, the film never manages to go, and the richer themes that are hinted at never quite cohere.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- In Competition

Production Companies: Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion
Cast: Rafi Pitts, Mitra Hajjar, Saba Yaghubi
Director: Rafi Pitts
Screenwriter: Rafi Pitts
Director of photography: Mohammad Davoudi
Sales: The Match Factory
No rating, 92 minutes