Review: 180° Rule

Written and directed by Farnoosh Samadi, a schoolteacher 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. Starring: Sadaf Asgari, Sahar Dolatshahi, Azita Hajian, Mohammad Heidari, Pejman Jamshidi, Hassan Pourshirazi and Amirreza Ranjbaran.

Living in the western world can sometimes make people forget about the inequality that’s rampant, that in certain countries women are at the behest of their husbands, that their capabilities are questioned and undermined at every opportunity and this film captures a very clear example of that misogyny. It’s hard to watch the way that Hamed (Jamshidi) speaks to his wife Sara (Dolatshahi), the way that she’s treated like a second-class citizen in her own home, questioning her so much even as to how she cares for her child, it’s intensely frustrating. However, it’s unfortunate that the film doesn’t take a stronger stance on the issue, it certainly points out this insulting behaviour in numerous scenes but slightly misses out on making a larger point of denouncing it.

It starts out like a drama, disagreements between husband and wife, a slightly ill daughter and a student in need of guidance at Sara’s school but slowly this odd tone creeps up in the background and it’s one that’s hard to decipher. As that tone gets stronger, it becomes extremely unclear where the film is headed or what its intentions are in reaching whatever that destination may be. It creates an unusual atmosphere and it’s not necessarily intentional, it’s more a consequence of the writing. The story takes a few turns, some more predictable than others but the journey as a whole is one without a significant driving force, after Sara finds herself on that painful path, it’s almost on auto-drive, going through the motions. It’s something that’s affected by the pace of the story also, it moves a little too slowly and thereby puts more emphasis on that strange, almost discomforting tone. There are of course genuine emotions running through the film, its level of sadness is undoubtedly harrowing but that alone isn’t enough to carry the film.

That’s not to say that the performances don’t pull their weight, they sincerely do, Dolatshahi’s performance as Sara has a sincere depth to it, the way that her character changes throughout the film is portrayed in a very physical yet refined manner. There’s a great deal of emotion and turmoil that Sara has to go through and one of the things that still pulls you into the film despite that slightly odd tone, is Dolatshahi’s performance because it is very strong. It’s difficult to compare any other performance as without question the film revolves around Sara, while Jamshidi’s Hamed isn’t quite put through the same level of change, a great deal of his role simply involves anger and disapproval but to his credit he will likely make you hate him which speaks entirely to how well done his performance is. Although both the portrayals by Haijan and Pourshirazi are extremely worth noting as once Sara becomes very introverted and in a state of shock, these two pick up the slack in the emotional department and become the voice for her character in a very supportive, compassionate manner.

Although admittedly the story struggles with a number of issues, the direction and cinematography do well to capture that landscape of sadness. The visual consistently embraces the intimate nature of the story, it also makes fantastic use of the location choices, particularly earlier on with the scenes in the woods. However, the filmmakers’ choice to not include a strong score to weave alongside its emotional themes was a detrimental one, it could have potentially offset some of that discomfort and brought out the stronger emotions instead.

180° Rule is a flowing river of sadness and a harrowing experience but unfortunately it doesn’t have a significant driving force to give a good enough justification for putting its audience through this bleak landscape. Yes, it is a good example of patriarchal societies and a poignant observation of unintended consequences and reactions in times of intense stress but it feels as though it’s simply meandering through the story rather than packing a punch. There’s an interesting story at play but it’s ultimately an unrewarding experience and is missing a larger goal to push its emotions further.

Verdict: ✯✯ ½

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2020

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