REVIEW – The Rafi Pitts Collection (2012)

Back in April 2011, I reviewed Rafi Pitts’ The Hunter, a superb insertion of 1970s American paranoid cinema tropes into a depiction of contemporary Iranian society. Evidently quite successful, the cinematic release of The Hunter has prompted the good folks at Artificial Eye to put out a box set of Pitts’ films including The Hunter but also the exquisitely moving It’s Winter (2006) and Pitts’ far more conventional early feature Sanam (2000). FilmJuice have my review of The Rafi Pitts Collection.

One of the pleasures of this box sex is that it allows you to survey the development of a creative talent. Though beautiful to look at and entirely decent, Pitts’ Sanam is a highly generic exercise in wrangling world cinema tropes. Indeed, the colourful photography and plot featuring a young boy struggling to get over the death of his father could have been made by any world cinema director in any country in the world. Having mastered the world cinema genre, Pitts then begins to process of developing his own sensibility. Intensely poetic and filled with chilly urban alienation, It’s Winter is demonstrably a far better film than Sanam and a far better film than we have come to expect from most world cinema directors who seem mostly content with toeing the line and giving western art house audiences exactly what they expect of a particular country. This cold and urban sensibility finds its ultimate fruition in the paranoia and repressed violence of The Hunter, which is easily Pitts’ best film to date:

The Hunter tells of a reformed criminal struggling to find salvation in the role of husband and father. The problem is that, while the film’s protagonist is quite content to go straight as long as he can spend time with his family, his employers use his criminal past as an excuse to make him work nights thereby ensuring that he rarely gets to see his family. When something terrible happens and the man’s family disappears, the man understandably goes nuts and begins hunting Iranian policemen. At this point, the film transitions from being an account of social injustice to being a tense paranoid thriller in the style of Taxi Driver and The Parallax View. Just as beautifully shot as Pitts’ earlier films, The Hunter juxtaposes the cold urban landscapes of It’s Winter with the warm naturalism of Sanam only to find that the Iranian police will chase you down through both sets of landscapes. Intriguingly, the film’s ending obliquely hints at the possibility of future uprisings. How much mistreatment will the Iranian people endure before, much like the hunter, they snap?

Also fantastic is the interview with Pitts that is included on the second disk in the collection. Many creatives, though clearly intelligent, lack either the self-awareness or the personal openness required to shed much light on their working processes, Pitts is clearly not one of those types of creatives. Witty, insightful and astonishingly candid about the choices he made during the shooting of It’s Winter, the interview is a timely reminder of quite how much a good DVD extra can add to the experience of watching a film.

The Hunter (2010) – America Unter Alles

Every morning, when I turn on the radio and hear of yet another wave of revolutionary uprisings or demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa, I invariably think that such events are long overdue. But what causes a popular uprising? What makes such a thing overdue?

In the West, we have an ageing and apathetic population ruled over by a largely corrupt political class who have little or no interest in rocking the boat. However, though archly conservative and hugely selfish, the mindset of the political classes broadly mirrors the attitudes of the ageing population they claim to represent and so, despite the odd march and protest, a revolution is not likely to take place any time soon. However, in the Arab World, the picture is startlingly different.

In the Middle East and North Africa, a similarly corrupt, conservative and selfish political class is currently in power. However, unlike the West, the population of the Arab World is not conservative and apathetic but young, vibrant and idealistic. For a while now, the older political class has managed to keep the young in line by making lavish promises and allowing them to blow off steam by whipping up anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiment (despite their vocal outrage, Israeli atrocities have been a political godsend to the autocracies of the Arab world). When these fail to work, the ageing political classes use Western weapons and truncheons to put down the protestors while screaming about ‘foreign influence’. However, as the news reveals to us every morning, this tactic is rapidly starting to fail and the youth of the Arab World are starting to demand representation in the political classes of the countries they inhabit.

What makes this wave of uprisings feel overdue is the fact that they are largely the product of demographic weight.  The political algebra is quite clear:

Insufficient social and political mobility + high birth rate = revolution

But where does the truth of this equation come from? Where do revolutions start? Iranian director Rafi Pitts’ The Hunter suggests that, while revolutions begin with unhappy people, they seldom end that way as political issues have a tendency to outlive the people who first draw attention to them.

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