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One of the top titles presented at the Fajr Film Festival’s Iranian Film Market, Just 6.5 (Metri Shesh-o Nim) walks the razor’s edge of spiraling tension as ambiguous good-bad cop Samad (Payman Maadi) slyly maneuvers the kingly young drug lord Nasser (Navid Mohammadzadeh) into his trap. While showcasing the mature talent of writer/director Saeed Rustaee in his second feature film, this differs from its genre companions in angrily underlining the human damage caused by the abuse of heroin, cocaine and crack. Billed as the highest-grossing domestic film “outside of comedies” in Iranian history, it also won the audience award at Iran’s national film festival, and it isn’t hard to see why.
The teasing title seems at first to signal the weight of a big drug shipment, until it’s ironically revealed as referring to the country’s 6.5 million drug users, who the police are ill-equipped to curtail. Though the judiciary system mandates capital punishment for dealers, the ranks of addicts are swelling and, as Rustaee’s screenplay eloquently shows, completely out of control. In this crisis situation, sharp cops like narcotics agents Samad and Hamid (Hooman Kiaie) are overworked and frustrated, constantly on the verge of over-stepping the limits of the law. More seriously for the token judge, played with a mix of seriousness and whimsy by Farhad Aslani (The Daughter), they easily fall under suspicion of corruption. Both policemen spend entire scenes handcuffed to immovable objects, until suddenly being cleared and freed for duty. No one seems to think this is strange.
The action gets off to a fast start as Samad leads a huge police round-up of far-gone addicts who reside in a no-man’s-land of concrete pipes and tents. Most of them are too stoned to resist arrest, but a youthful dealer lights off with a large stash and Samad fast in pursuit. Their sustained foot chase through alleyways and construction sites sets the film’s breathless pace and ends in a typically shocking denouement, as the boy falls into a deep pit and is buried alive by a bulldozer.
In the following scenes, the police package their cache of human dregs. The prison yard bursts with emaciated men stripped to their underwear, and just when it seems there’s no room for even a mouse, a long parade of women is marched through their midst to an upper floor of the prison. Three men refuse to undress, claiming to be female, and are sent upstairs without comment. The usual painstaking modesty and separation of the sexes found in Iranian films has no place in this hell. The army of extras in the film are said to be real drug-users and their pitifully ravaged faces speak volumes about the effects of addiction.
Samad, all knit brows and grimaces, seems to be playing a solitary chess game in his mind. He and his second-in-command, Hamid, raid a small-time dealer’s house while the man’s wife and children cower and wail. This poor man leads them to a bigger fish, who they grab at the airport trying to get through the metal detector with obese henchmen who have swallowed huge quantities of drugs, as X-rays of their stomachs and intestines show. From them, Samad tracks down a young woman (Parinaz Izadyar) who used to be the girlfriend of the kingpin himself, Nasser Khakzad. And after more threats and underhanded methods, he at last gets the address he needs.
He finds Nasser (a plum role for rising star Navid Mohammadzadeh) lolling in the swimming pool of his penthouse apartment, unconscious after trying to kill himself. Samad cruelly brings him back to life and throws him in a large, overheated cell so jam-packed the men showing signs of withdrawal symptoms they have to sleep standing up. These eye-opening scenes reach their climax of horror in a group hanging, in which the convicted men are herded towards a row of nooses.
The main cast has been reprised from Rustaee’s debut feature Life and a Day, and here they turn in magnetic performances of surprising depth for an action thriller. Wearing a surly, hell-bent frown, Maadi pushes the policeman’s fundamental ambiguity to the limit, making the easy-going drug lord look human in comparison, especially surrounded by his tearful family. Though still an exuberant character, this is one of the more controlled performances in the career of popular actor Mohammedzadeh.
Tautly shot and edited by a top-flight technical crew and notably scored by Peyman Yazdanian, Just 6.5 is more than a thrilling watch. It is a sobering reflection on the inability of the law to stem the tide of drug addiction through round-ups, arrests and executions. Or perhaps it’s society that needs adjusting?
Cast: Payman Maadi, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Farhad Aslani, Houman Kiai, Parinaz Izadyar
Director-screenwriter: Saeed Roustayi
Producer: Jamal Sadatian
Director of photography: Hooman Behmanesh
Production designer: Mohsen Nasrollahi
Costume designer: Ghazale Motamed
Editor: Bahram Dehghan
Composer: Peyman Yazdanian
Venue: Fajr International Film Festival (Iranian Film Market)
Sales: Iranian Independents
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