Fear of contamination, whether justified or merely paranoid, is the dominant mode in Taboor. Crafting a largely abstracted setting out of contemporary Tehran, Vahid Vakilifar’s nearly wordless film happily dispenses with almost any kind of context in order to focus strictly on the highly charged imagery that the director then explores in lengthy, almost wordless takes. The result is a film as evocative as it is maddening, making palpable a sickly sense of unease while failing to cohere into any kind of satisfying whole.
Opening with a real-time scene of its unnamed protagonist (Mohammad Rabbanipour) dressing himself in an aluminum foil suit and then pulling on street clothes over these odd accoutrements, the whole thing taking place in the man’s foil-lined trailer park, the film then follows him on an extended nighttime journey. Driving a motorcycle with a sidecar, he makes several stops throughout the city to exterminate the threat of a sinister infestation that may be simply cockroaches or possibly something far more threatening. He also picks up some extra money along the way by stopping at a little person’s mansion, where he strips down, places a metal pail over his head, and allows his employer to use his noggin for target practice.
We learn very little about the man and his mission, only finding out halfway through that he appears to be suffering from some sort of environmental radiation poisoning whose negative effects seem to be worsening. Throughout the film, though, it’s easy to be content to take in the series of lengthy tableaux in which characters simply move through a jaundiced nightlit space, the eeriness of the settings compounded by the sound design, a mix of spooky drones, silence, and amplified quotidian sounds, such as the protagonist’s heavy breathing.
But the sense that all of this is leading somewhere productive, that all of these images are going to add up to something more than a well-sustained mood is ultimately frustrated. While the film does force its only character into a decision-making of sorts (and precedes this by a long-close up of his bearded, tired-looking face in order to humanize him), it doesn’t scan as anything like a satisfying dramatic turn given the explicit distance the film has kept us at from this man. Similarly, and typical of the film’s approach, some odd bits of business, like the aforementioned target-practice sequence and another of the protag taking a solitary ride on a roller-coaster simulator, unfold as little more than admittedly entrancing oddball asides.