(Credit: TIFF)

‘180 Degree Rule’ review: Iranian family drama by Farnoosh Samadi

180º Rule
3.5

This feature debut by short film director and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Farnoosh Samadi, is an interesting mix of brilliant film techniques and expert directing, used to tell a challenging story with many layers. The film is meant to be the first of a trilogy, dealing in different ways with the subject of lies and secrets, a theme which Samadi has said interests her greatly. Premiering at TIFF 2020 in September, the film will be presented at the London Film Festival October 9.

Based on the real experience of a friend of the director’s, 180º Rule  (original title, Khate Farzi) is described by the director as describing “how life-changing one supposedly insignificant decision may be.” It could be taken as a straightforward morality tale, one with some universal truths but which also depends to a large extent on the rules and customs of Iranian society; it does, superficially, involve a person who transgresses accepted behaviour and is severely punished by fate; but there is more to it. The superficial layer of a simple guilt and penalty story allows glimpses into Iranian society, the lives of Iranian girls and women, and hints at problems with some aspects of Iranian tradition, and with an oversimplified view of morality and respectability.

 The story begins with a simple dispute between husband and wife – introduced in Samadi’s distinctive style through an opening scene of a pan of milk on the stove, foaming up and threatening to boil over. The wife, Sara (Sahar Colatshahi), her husband, Hamed (Pejman Jamshidi) and their little daughter, Raha, live in Tehran. They have been invited to a family wedding out of town. When Hamed is required to be away for work on the day of the wedding, Sara wants to attend on her own, but Hamed refuses to allow it. When negotiating and begging have no effect, Sara comes up with a devious plan that would allow her and her daughter to attend secretly. 

Sara is a teacher at a local girls’ school, and early scenes introduce a sub-plot offering a different look at lies and secrets, one that will return to further complicate Sara’s life. The ordinary interactions between Sara and her trusting pupils provide a look at the lives of women in Iran, and the personal challenges they face. Again, Sara tries to help a student by contravening convention, willing to take a risk for the sake of the girls she cares about, a decision that can come back to haunt her.

At the wedding, an unexpected accident leads to tragedy, as Sara’s minor act of rebellion spirals into a scandal that has her scrambling to cover one lie with another until she has no options left. The final act is a painful melodrama of accusation, guilt and atonement. 

(Credit: TIFF)
(Credit: TIFF)

The script, also written by the director, is not obviously political or didactic. It shows us the characters’ personalities, their relationships, the circumstances that form their lives; and takes time to establish Sara’s dedication to her students and her intense love for her five-year-old daughter. When Sara’s lies are exposed and she faces both family and legal censure, it is not as a symbol, but a full and complex person. The director commented, “The fact that in such circumstances the audience could freely judge but couldn’t clearly blame an individual, was my core motivation in this production.”  

As the situation moves from a purely personal to a legal battle, questions of whether the law in Iran can fairly judge a woman, or how a case would be handled if a man rather than a woman were accused, are hinted at. Samadi explains, “I wanted to emphasize how we convert reality to what we can relate or want it to be.” Even the film’s title hints at the importance of perspective: the ‘180º Rule’ is a guideline in cinematography, relating to the way two characters in the same shot are perceived by the camera. Further, the director says that during the legal wrangles that develop, “I intentionally added critics as subtext to highlight the male dominated laws in Iran.”

The series of attempted cover-ups and tragic revelations, and the virtually continuous emotional turmoil through the second half of the film, sometimes comes close to soap-opera level melodrama. It’s saved from excess by good, believable performances from the entire cast; and by Samadi’s direction, which tones down the emotional outbursts, and uses film techniques to set the necessary mood, including subtly muted colours and shadowy lighting during the more tragic scenes. Most of all, the events of the film don’t stand alone; they invite closer examination of the realities behind the multiple tragedies, the causes and the injustices, presumptions, or simple human failings that might have instigated them.

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