180 Degree Rule, 2020.
Written and directed by Farnoosh Samadi.
Starring Sahar Dolatshahi, Pejman Jamshidi, and Hassan Pourshirazi.
A school teacher from Tehran is preparing to attend a wedding in northern Iran. When her husband suddenly forbids her to go, she makes a choice that will place her on a painful path to atonement.
Whether Farnoosh Samadi’s directorial debut crams too much bleak incident into its 83-minute runtime or mercifully wraps up its grim tableau snappily are viewpoints likely to vary wildly between viewers of 180 Degree Rule, an almost unbearably downcast Iranian drama.
Schoolteacher Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi) is keen to attend a family wedding in northern Iran, but her husband Hamed (Pejman Jamshidi) isn’t so much, with work frequently calling him away and their daughter Raha recently falling ill. Sara remains steadfast, though, and when Hamed ventures off once again for work, she defies the culture’s traditional social structure – that is, a woman does what her husband says – to head to the wedding with her daughter while leaving Hamed in the dark.
Though Samadi’s film is best defined by its overt critique of the prevailing patriarchal voice dominating women in Iran, it is also a film of two clearly demarcated halves. The first focuses on Sara’s attempts to thrive alongside a husband more keen to dub her a nag than an equitable partner in the family.
The second half chronicles the fallout of Sara’s decision to attend the wedding. Without going into too much detail, this results in a major mid-film turn, one which while unavoidably contrived to generate a crushing central dilemma, nevertheless serves as a devastating primer for a discussion about gender dynamics and truth.
This narrative twist will simply be too much for many viewers in of itself, and Samadi does admittedly luxuriate somewhat in the grimness from this point on. The self-conscious wallowing is viscerally effective to a point, though, hinged as it is on the suspense of an impending event sure to make Sara’s life incredibly difficult.
Where Samadi perhaps goes wrong is in pinning so much of the film’s back-end on an only sometimes convincing leap of narrative faith, reliant on Sara constructing a snowball of misguided lies for Hamed which really only ever has one realistic outcome. Again, though, the film’s short runtime prevents it from ever sticking around in one place for too long, ensuring that Sara’s difficulties aren’t so much a slow-descent as a hard slam into a brick wall.
Still, there’s a lot else crammed in here, such as a half-baked subplot involving one of Sara’s pregnant students, and two pieces of visual symbolism so on-the-nose I laughed out loud – one involving a black crow, the other some rumbling thunder at a pivotal dramatic moment. These asides really only muddy a central story with more than enough going on to sustain a full feature without the slushy embellishments.
Yet despite its excesses, 180 Degree Rule is effective enough as a tale of hollow masculine dominion and the tortured women it leaves in its wake, in large part thanks to an exemplary performance from Sahar Dolatshahi as Sara. Sympathetic from first minute to last even when discernible character logic scarcely sticks, Dolatshahi makes us feel Sara’s pain during the film’s more emotionally strained segments – of which there are many – doing more with her face than Samadi’s script asks her to say most of the time.
It’s also capably filmed with an appropriate level of stylistic detachment, giving viewers a discomfortingly intimate window into an increasingly twisted situation. The string-filled musical score, however, sometimes feels wholly out of step for a drama this mannered and pared down.
Though Samadi doesn’t give herself a large canvas to work through so much emotional devastation, she nevertheless lingers on the right moments for the most part while cutting through a lot of the usual preambles – though her script is hardly free of its own indulgences.
A grim, heart-wrenching, and occasionally ham-handed avalanche of tragedies, which owes a lot to Sahar Dolatshahi’s compassionate lead performance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.