Devastatingly performed drama about loss, grief, and the precarious position of women in modern day Tehran
180° Rule is the debut feature from Iranian writer/director Farnoosh Samadi. Sahar Dolatshahi stars as Sara, a married high school teacher with a young daughter. The film opens with Sara reminding her husband, Hamed, about a family wedding they have plans to go to in a couple of days’ time. Hamed tells Sara that he now has to work and cannot go, and as he thinks it inappropriate for a woman to drive without her husband in the car he will not allow her or their daughter to go either. Headstrong Sara is upset at the prospect of not seeing her family, so once Hamed leaves on his business trip she disobeys him by driving out to the countryside wedding anyway. Whilst at the wedding a horrible tragedy befalls the family, and despite her grief Sara must concoct a plan to stop Hamed finding out she disobeyed him.
At only 82 minutes this is a very short film, but each of those minutes have been put to excellent use with a neat and satisfying story absent of unnecessary scenes. An oppressive atmosphere of doom hangs over it – we the viewer can sense what is going to go wrong at every point with sickening certainty – though the way in which events unfold is genuinely unique and surprising.
This film portrays the awkward dichotomy of Iranian society. Sara, her family and her husband are all shown to be well educated, well off and holding influential jobs in a modern city, yet it’s women live in fear of falling foul of Islamic religious law. 180° Rule’s power lies in what is left unsaid, engineering situations in which the deadly consequences of disobedience or difference are abundantly clear without the characters ever having to say them aloud.
It’s let down by seriously shoddy English language subtitling, reading slightly as if the translator was not 100% fluent in English. The main characters name kept changing spelling, and whilst I don’t speak any Persian it was pretty clear that characters conversations were being overly simplified in the translation. Still, they were enough to fully understand the plot and as the emotion ramps up in the second half of the film the dialogue becomes sparse anyway, such grief having no need of words.
Sahar Dolatshahi gives an astonishing performance; tragic, expressive, and believable with little need of words. Her eyes brilliantly telegraph her horror, hopelessness, and fear long after she has taken a vow of silence. Dolatshahi is in every scene of the film and completely commands it.
180° Rule is a grim but clever watch and a vital look into the oft hidden lives of Iranian women. Intense viewing.
180° Rule gets its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on 9th October 2020