'Lantouri': Berlin Review

Lantouri still 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
A fascinating moral shocker from Iran.

An eye for an eye — literally.

One of the most original, outspoken voices in young Iranian cinema, writer-director Reza Dormishian raises the stakes in Lantouri, a moral tale so profoundly shocking it is nearly impossible to watch. The story of an unhinged gang member who courts a beautiful social activist, deluding himself that she returns his feelings, ends in the worst way possible for both parties. After a nervously edgy hour of playful montage, the film turns the dark corner of an acid attack, whose graphic after-effects are not for the faint-hearted. The visual and emotional punishment continues in the relentless final scenes of judicial retribution that will have most of the audience cringing under their seats and asking themselves about the desirable limits of onscreen violence. While Dormishian’s courage and talent are not in doubt, he has probably crossed the line over what an audience can reasonably be expected to stomach. Of course he’s not alone in jacking up the violence — take Tarantino, for example — but the horror fest in Lantouri is too realistic to pass as merely “cartoonish.” It is deeply upsetting cinema, hard to show outside of festivals.

The other problem is that the often brilliant screenplay is all over the place, trying to do too many things at once and losing focus as a result. Women’s rights, religious/legal obtuseness, the privileged and underprivileged classes, crime and punishment, love and betrayal — it’s hard to find the main theme amid all the options. 

The film begins where Dormishian left off with his devastating social critique of contemporary Iran, I’m Not Angry! The same two actors, Navid Mohammadzadeh and Baran Kosari, reappear as members of the Lantouri gang that is terrorizing Tehran. They start by purse snatching and mugging rich kids in fancy cars, then proceed to stealing the cars, extortion, blackmail, kidnapping and drugs. They swagger down the streets of the city brandishing switchblades, daggers and kitchen knives. One day Pasha, maniacally played by Mohammadzadeh in another spectacular performance, loses control and kills the designated victim. Then he cries over what he’s done.

Baroon (Kosari at her comic best) is a hooker turned hardened gangster, and she's madly in love with the crazy guy. But from the moment he falls for aloof journalist Maryam (Maryam Palizban), he doesn’t know she exists. Maryam is facetiously introduced as a well-meaning social activist from an aristocratic family. She has launched the “No to Violence” campaign, and her group attempts to persuade the relatives of victims of violent crime to forgive the perpetrators, so they won’t hang. Dormishian ably toys with the audience’s compassionate sentiments and sympathy for the bleeding-hearted firebrand.

But what if a crime was so heinous and cruel that no excuses were possible? An attack that blinded and horribly disfigured an innocent woman, for no other reason than, “If I can’t have you, no one can”? Skillfully skating back and forth between light-hearted comedy and outrageous tragedy, the second half of the film jolts viewers into re-examining their consciences and liberal ideas.

But it doesn’t end there. Iran’s Islamic law is firmly entrenched in the lex talionis or law of retaliation. “An eye for an eye” means the victim of a crime is authorized to press for a punishment that corresponds to his injury. Well, for those who had trouble watching James Bond strapped to the operating chair in Spectre while sharp needles drill into his head, be warned that it’s inadequate preparation for the film’s final, unbearable scene, one that drives home the difficulty of truly forgiving violence.

The whole tale is told from a dizzying array of viewpoints in a series of rapid-fire, on-camera interviews with people from various walks of life — a right-wing working man, a bespectacled liberal, a student, a judge, a lawyer, a cleric, etc. The effect is a coyly comic tour de force that keeps the pace breathless. 


Cast: Navid Mohammadzadeh, Maryam Palizban, Baran Kosari, Mehdi Kooshki, Bahram Afshan, Reza Behbudi, Behnaz Jafari, Parivash Nazarieh, Nader Fallah, Ardeshir Rostami

Director, screenwriter, producer: Reza Dormishian

Director of photography: Ashkan Ashkani

Production designer: Mohsen Nasrollahi

Costume designer: Golnaz Golshan

Editor: Hayedeh Safiyari

Music: Keyhan Kalhor

World sales: Iranian Independents  

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)

115 minutes