To describe the unconventional style of acclaimed Iranian director Rafi Pitt’s films as somewhat minimalist would be an understatement of an understatement. This is particularly evidenced by his newest movie, ‘The Hunter’; a drama of revenge, confusion, high tension and an abundance of sullen glares, which recounts a plot no doubt familiar to many, but with half the expected formula and more than double the unanswered questions. Put plainly, it’s a character study with ostensively little character and rather high levels of morose and bleak emotional uncertainty. Well at least it wholeheartedly tries to be.
The plot, as much or little as you see there to be, concerns an Iranian family man Ali Alavi (played by Raffi Pitt himself) who partakes in hunting as a past time. After losing his wife and daughter to an accidental police shooting at a political demonstration, he deals with the loss in the only way he knows how: by shooting dead two police officers in broad daylight driving in their car. Finally confronted and arrested by two other officers, the three become irrevocably lost in the isolated maze of desolation and… well trees I guess. This isn’t so much the premise however as more or less the entire plot. The revelation that the main character’s wife has been killed only comes to light twenty five minutes in, with the all important act of vengeance taking place at the beginning of the latter half of a 90 minute movie. Fair enough, this isn’t so much a piece about story as substance, but the focus definitely seems misplaced with a great deal of time devoted to the in between scenes rather the outcome of events and their resonance within the main character, making the film feel haphazardly stretched and even a little dull.
Pitt’s reliance on an inundated odd narrative structure has its uses: the opening scenes depicting the main character’s working life (as a night shift security guard at a car factory, something which pains the devoted father and husband) are full of long drawn out shots of the punch a clock class drone patrolling through humanly sparse factories and complexes. Reused locations at different times of the day help give a series of events that are essentially mundane something with a little more complexity behind their irrelevance within the overall picture. In contrast with the colourful montage of the family out and about this cold, empty behaviour makes the main character’s arrival into an empty apartment all the more chilling as he eats with more confusion than concern. At least this is what one would hope was intended given the main character’s tendency to remain as emotionally silent as an aubergine.
Where ‘The Hunter’ redeems its misfired approach is in its truly exquisite cinematography. The amount of shots that add depth, substance or just look damn nice are too many to count; from a near endless valley of mass produced cars that the lone man trudges through, the shot of the coroner’s office (half hidden by a door) where the body and the man’s reaction are hidden to us and a wide shot of a waterfall gorge , these argue if this is a story to be told through the filming and not the script it’s got the aesthetics to at least try and make it work. The final scenes of the main character and his captors is made up almost entirely of drab, near-colourless backdrops of woods that reflect the atmosphere of frustration and loss of humility, even if they do seem to clash with the more varied array of locations prior.
Overall much of the film’s flaws or triumphs are decided by interpretation: is the rampant use of scenes involving cars a metaphorical way of expressing Ali’s reliance on them – the killing of the officers in their vehicle and the crashing of his own car coinciding with his capture most withstanding – or a banal form of scene linking that gets old quickly? Is the film’s small use of political context a directorial choice to avoid cliché or a waste of good subtext? Or are the final scenes a representation of the line between hunted and hunting become blurred beyond measure or just three men inexplicably dossing around in the woods?
If you took off maybe half an hour off the running time ‘The Hunter’ would truly have excelled as a short movie, but at its full length it becomes a wholly low plotted, grim film for festival goers and those with an interest in strong filming technique, and not for your average viewer seeking engrossing entertainment.