WRITER/DIRECTOR: FARNOOSH SAMADI
CAST: SAHAR DOLATSHAHI; PEJMAN JAMSHIDI; AZITA HAJIAN; HASSAN POURSHIRAZI
IRAN 2020; 83 MINS; PERSIAN/ENGLISH SUBTITLES
AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
What seems a curious title for the uninitiated, the 180 degree rule is a filmmaker’s term which refers to a line drawn between characters whilst the camera is positioned around a semi-circle (like a 180 ruler) giving balance and perspective to a scene. If the line is crossed, the actors seem to be at cross purposes, not talking to each other directly and looking the wrong way. In her debut feature, Iranian director Farnoosh Samadi translates the idea of crossing this line. Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi) a high-school teacher and her businessman husband, Hamed (Pejman Jamshidi), a professional, married couple living in Tehran with their young daughter Raha, are already estranged when we meet them and utterly undone by the end of the film.
Against her husband’s will, Sara takes Raha to her cousin’s wedding in the country. Raha sings, endearingly off-key, to the enthralled guests. That night Sara awakes in the log cabin choking, only to find her daughter has died of gas poisoning. Unable to admit the circumstances, Sara concocts a story for her husband preferring to tell him they were victims of a hit and run in Tehran. She enlists her family in the lie but eventually Hamed uncovers the truth.
The relationship between the husband and wife is alienated from the start. Their argument, however, is passionless. Sara decides to do what she wants but it is not as if she were headstrong. Hamed denies her choice, but he is not overtly authoritarian. And yet, the degree to which Sara, in the midst of this epic tragedy, resorts to a lie signals a seismic power imbalance between the composed husband and dignified wife (and the sexes in Iranian society).
To go against a husband’s wishes appears to be so transgressive it overrides the enormity of a child’s death. In fact, the lie becomes the crime and central to 180 Degree Rule. Treating her like a criminal, Hamed informs the police: “I believe what she did led to my daughter’s death. I advised against this trip several times and asked her as husband and father of the child.” The official concurs: “He is the natural guardian. If they prove you are guilty of negligence you will be convicted.” Briefly, Sara is imprisoned and then released on bail. She is cognisant of her “crime”.
Shame pervades 180 Degree Rule (running concurrently in the film is the suicide of Sadaf, a young girl from Sara’s school who confided in Sara that she was pregnant). Alongside shame, is complicity, albeit reluctant: Sara’s complicity with Sadaf; Sara’s family’s complicity.
Despite the unleashed tragedy, 180 Degree Rule is remarkably sublime. The composure and resignation of both leading characters speaks volumes. Pejman Jamshidi as Hamed, expertly portrays a wronged husband without fury or violence. Sahar Dolatshahi as Sara exudes sorrow in a dignified way resorting to silence as her grief finally outweighs everything and she submits to her demise. Dolatshahi’s facial expressions are transcendent, she emotes a subtle pathos.
The cinematography (Massoud Salami) and film design go hand in hand. It is almost as if this is a black-and-white film there is so little colour. The weather is monochrome. There is snow and rain. At the wedding, the guests are dressed in white, the musicians in black, all around there is snow. The guests are framed in light as they watch Raha sing. A photographer takes a wedding photo very much like a tableau. A blackbird hits the window in the snow (a sign of foreboding). After the tragedy, the family wears every day, black clothes: the women in long black dresses and hijabs: the men in black trousers and jackets (costume by Sara Khaledi). They sit before neutral, colourless interiors. Sara is framed in her neat hijab against billowing, white nets. She cradles Raha’s white cat.
As if underscoring the monochrome, the dialogue is direct and understated, leading to silence as if there is no longer anything to say. Explanations are simple and clear. And yet, everything is heartfelt and heavy in meaning with the ending underscored by a low, abstract violin (Peyman Yazdanian) as the consequences of the original tragedy finally take centre stage.