Unreeling with near-cyclonic force in a nonlinear style, “Lantouri” marks another ambitious examination of the churning frustrations of Iran’s disenfranchised younger generation from multihyphenate Reza Dormishian (“I’m Not Angry”). At its most basic level, this social drama is about lex talionis, the “eye for an eye” retaliation justice permitted by Islamic law, but it also references a whirlwind of themes, including Iran’s human-rights violations, the struggle for women’s’ rights, corruption and a host of other contempo issues; meanwhile, on a meta level, it examines point of view and unreliable storytelling. While a must-see for those wanting to take the pulse of what’s happening in Iran, the film is a tough watch, signaling that fest play will likely trump sales.
Purporting to be an invesetigation of a shocking crime, “Lantouri” feels stylistically inspired by Godardian jump cuts, Tom Tykwer’s “Run Lola Run” photo montages, and Kamran Shirdel’s singular masterpiece, “The Night It Rained” (1967), which mixed interviews and media reports to provide contradictory views of a single event. From the opening moments, Dormishian’s film practically assaults the viewer with an explosion of images, details and voices, shot in a variety of media and styles, and replete with opinions from sociologists, human-rights activists, political hardliners, and even men (and women) on the street.
The crime in question is the dousing of a woman’s face with acid, and the victim is Maryam (Maryam Palizban), an aristocratic thirtysomething journalist and social activist, who has spent many years campaigning against Iran’s retaliation justice. But after her hideous disfigurement, her feelings about lex talionis undergo a 180-degree change. The perpetrator is Pasha (the intense Navid Mohammadzadeh, as good here as he was in “I’m Not Angry”), a younger man who becomes obsessed with Maryam and fancies himself her suitor, even though he comes from a lower social class and a life of crime. Is his action a premeditated deed, or a spontaneous crime of passion?
Pasha is the mastermind of a street gang that has moved from simple purse snatchings and muggings to car theft, kidnapping and extortion. His backstory is divulged at length and from contradictory points of view: Some say that he’s a Robin Hood of sorts who only preys on the corrupt rich and uses his haul to help orphans, while others call him scum. From the standpoint of his fellow gang member Baroon (“I’m Not Angry” co-star Baran Kosari, thrilling here as a bad girl with incredibly alluring eyes), he’s a sensitive man who cries when he kills someone.
Maryam’s circumstances are similarly laid out — through hearsay, through interviews with those who describe themselves as her friends, through a former boyfriend, and finally through the testimony of the woman herself. Dormishian makes viewers conscious of how much in life is open to interpretation and misinterpretation, especially in a society where it becomes difficult to separate truth, rumor and lie.
The director uses a restless camera (wielded by d.p. Ashkan Ashkani) and a jittery editing style (courtesy of Hayedeh Safiyari) that suits the increasingly fraught proceedings. As a prison doctor readies Pasha for the literal eye-for-an-eye justice that Maryam demands, the tension becomes almost too much to bear. Here, Dormishian and Safiyari seem to be knowingly playing with imagery from Luis Bunuel’s “Un chien andalou.” In addition to the tension-inducing lensing and agitated cutting, Mohammad Reza Delpak’s nerve-wracking sound design deepens our immersion in the mind of the unhinged Pasha.
Before making its international premiere in the Panorama section of the Berlinale, “Lantouri” was a buzzy item at Tehran’s Fajr Film Festival, where Delpak collected a kudo for best sound design. Coincidentally, another bitter social drama about acid attacks on women, first-timer Saeed Roustaei’s “Life+1 Day,” nabbed nine awards, including best first feature.