Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From Iran, Rafi Pitts' THE HUNTER proves DIY filmmaking for both director & audience

The two movies are from Iran, but you could hardly ask for more different ones than last week's A Separation and this week's THE HUNTER. The first withholds a couple of important things along the way that a viewer might have preferred to know, but the second? Whew. It withholds just about the whole shebang. The film's director, writer and star (who appears in nearly every scene), Rafi Pitts, shown in all the photos below, is on record (in the film's press kit) stating that "keeping things open to interpretation is an important element of my film-making" and further, "I respect the audience by allowing them the choice to think as they would like" and further (on why his main character, Ali, just released from prison, was there in the first place), "Who a person is will decide why he or she thinks Ali was in prison." This, I suggest, makes for a very odd sort of Do-It-Yourself film-making on both sides of the camera.

So, go into The Hunter with rather lower expectations than you would generally place in a movie that you imagine will "fill in the blanks," and you may have a better experience than did I in figuring out, not just what is happening and why, but why we should give a damn about the main character, whose behavior goes from merely not-very-communicative to stoic to utterly clammed-up and finally to anti-social in the extreme. Mr. Pitts, above and below, has a certain charisma and some acting ability, but here he relies too heavily on our willingness to care. (Notice the hugely varied expressions on his face in the shots above and below...)

Granted, life in present-day Iran is no picnic (the picnic's nearly over here, too), but as a filmmaker, Pitts' pacing has a sameness that eventually drags things down. He seems determined to show us a grey, colorless, stark city and grey, colorless, stark lives -- and he succeeds all too well.  (His outdoor shots of nature in all her glory are pretty grey, too.)

Early on, we get some family time, as Ali... hmmm, "cavorts" is far too strong a word, so let's say walks and/or drives with his wife (Mitra Hajjar) and daughter (newcomer Saba Yaghoobi), both shown above, through a car wash and then an amusement park. Overall, there is very little dialog in the film but a lot of automobile use. Neither of these is conducive to learning much about our hero. And when, some time into things, the event happens that changes all, this simply drives our guy further into isolation -- from his surroundings and from us.

The moral, I suppose, is that in a very repressive society, those acts of repression by the state -- as well as those of supposed liberation by the individual -- have as many unintended consequences as they do the intended variety. The Hunter (92 minutes, from Olive Films) -- not an uninteresting movie, but a very slow and circumspect one -- opens this Wednesday, January 4, in New York City at the IFC Center for a one-week run.

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