In The Hunter, writer-director Rafi Pitts manages an atmosphere of choked, ambiguous dread, somehow naturalistic and hallucinatory at once, that recalls nothing less than Godard’s Alphaville. Car break lights glow like ominous embers while tunnel bridges are lit so as to suggest a pathway into other, even less welcoming dimensions. Pitts creates images that testify to the conflicting feelings of constriction; a little girl is delighted by a huge playground cage while her father struggles to feign interest in a night job at a sterile garage that’s primarily composed of blandly suffocating variations of the colors blue and gray. In the daytime, the film’s cityscape resembles any large American sprawl: a series of twisting roads and jutting buildings that epitomize banality until the night comes to release its inner danger and forbidden poetry.
The Hunter’s first hour is a remarkable and nearly plotless visual essay about a fortysomething male’s return to his family in Tehran following his release from prison for intentionally murky reasons. This man, Ali (Pitts), has a face that compliments the conflicting emotions that the film’s images stir; somewhat resembling an Iranian Abe Vigoda, he’s fascinatingly anonymous, a testament to the stifled everyday aggression of an intelligent man who finds himself having to slum in terms of aspirations. Something awful soon happens to Ali, and so he’s forced to confront an endless, willfully apathetic bureaucratic nightmare that acts as a parallel to the protests of outrage that we occasionally hear on the soundtrack as a call and response to the upcoming government elections.
For an American viewer who knows Iran only through movies, it will be hard to watch The Hunter so soon after A Separation without noting certain parallels. Both are, most obviously, about a lost and flailing middle class that feels abandoned by their government, and it’s this subtext that allows both of these films to be surprisingly accessible to American audiences. A Separation is a masterpiece because it’s a thriller of almost unbelievable emotional immediacy that quietly transforms, seemingly without effort, into a parable of the irresolvability of the responsibilities of governing humans, regardless of culture. And for a while, The Hunter manages a similar magic trick as a tale of misplaced revenge in which everyone is equally complicit and innocent.
But the film grows more obvious during its third act, when Ali finds himself once again pursued by the police. At this point, Pitts begins to telegraph his ironies with dialogue that reduces the eerie power of his staging. For that, The Hunter can’t be called a major movie, but it’s clear that Pitts is a budding filmmaker and actor of immense talent who should, barring the potential perversities of circumstance, make a film of considerable and uniting power.