Writer and Director: Farnoosh Samadi
The 180° Rule is an instruction in filmmaking where an imaginary line exists between two principal characters ensuring that in the final cut these two characters will be seen to be looking at each other when they have a conversation. The adoption of this line also makes it possible to show action behind the character that they themselves are not aware of. In this tense Iranian drama, a car accident happening behind the main character spins a web of deception.
Sara is preparing to go to a family wedding, but at the last minute her husband can’t get the time off work and as their daughter Raha is sick, he decides that the trip should be cancelled. Sara suggests that if Raha recovers she could drive to the wedding without him. Hamed emphatically refuses permission saying she may be proficient in driving in the city, she is not good enough for country roads. When a motorbike nearly hits them as she drives him to the airport Hamed’s fears are justified, he believes.
Raha does recover and is disappointed that she can’t wear her bridesmaid’s dress or give her poetry recital at the ceremony, and so Sara defies the order of her husband and, swearing Raha to secrecy, they get in the car and start driving. That tragedy will occur is plain from the start; the signs are there. Of course, there is the car accident, but then there is the incident involving one of Sara’s pupils at school, and the bird that flies into the window at the chalet in which mother and daughter stay in for the wedding.
When the catastrophe does occur, Farnoosh Samadi’s film moves from thriller to a study of family politics in Iran where a husband has the final say. As Sara, Sahar Dolatshahi is excellent and the scenes of her grief, filmed from the inside of a car, go some way to show how the keenest sorrows cannot be shared. Dolatshahi closes up entirely, and for most of the second half of the film she barely speaks at all, but she’s able to register her anger and then her defeat in her expressive eyes.
A small cast replicates the pressures and secrets of family with Azita Hajian remarkable as Sara’s mother and Amirreza Ranjbaran putting in an impressive performance as Sina, Sara’s brother. As Hamed, Pejman Jamshidi is impenetrable and threatening. And for all that, Samadi’s film is about gaslighting and the rights of Iranian women just as much as it is about grief.
While Tehran looks like other modern cities, the shots at the wedding as the snow falls are beautiful, if a little stagey, to watch. When Sara, dressed in black, scrabbles in the snow there is real drama and it’s a shame that we move back to the city with its grey municipal corridors so quickly. But this is where real life must go on, and the acceptance silently negotiated by Sara and Hamed may give the film a defeatist tone, but what more could they do?
A few times the film feels a little too fantastic, but the story is based on a friend of Samadi’s and Dolatshahi’s performance helps make it convincing. The focus on how women and girls are navigating, both literally and metaphorically, modern day Iran makes 180° Rule worth seeking out. The cameras lie and no one really looks at each other in the eye with full understanding and empathy. This film proves it.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October