The feature-length debut from Iranian director Farnoosh Samadi, 180 Degree Rule, is a murky exploration of grieving and marital strife.
Director and screenwriter Farnoosh Samadi does not care what you think about her characters. According to her director’s note, she set out to make a film where the viewer “could freely judge but couldn’t clearly blame an individual [character]”. 180 Degree Rule, her debut feature, accomplishes just that, creating a cinematic world of murky morals and tough decisions. The visuals heighten this feeling, depicting a world consisting mostly of various shades of gray. After the unassuming yet strangely ominous first act, Samadi plunges us into the depths of human sorrow, showing how her characters react to the traumatic event that takes place. She doesn’t judge any of them harshly, instead taking a hard stare at their grieving processes, not trying to make sense of them rationally but presenting a clear empathy for their suffering.
Samadi’s characters make a lot of mistakes. One of the ideas her film touches on is if one choice was different, then maybe everything would have turned out fine. Everyone feels at fault, but perhaps some are more at fault than others? There is Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi), the main character who has a rocky relationship with her husband Hamed (Pejman Jamshidi). The one thing they have in common is that they both love their daughter Raha.
Events start to become set in motion when Hamed refuses to let Sara go to her family’s wedding. He does not want Sara to drive up North, and Raha is just starting to get over a cold. However, when he leaves on a business trip, Sara goes anyway, bringing Raha with her. She lies about her whereabouts to Hamed, and her family are behind her with each decision she makes. The tragedy that occurs next is not entirely unpredictable, but still suitably emotional. It is difficult to feel nothing when watching people grieve in such an unflinching way. Samadi does not hold back the emotional trauma, and, while some may call these moments too affected, they work because of Samadi’s unwavering understanding.
The narrative becomes even darker as it progresses, twisting down an uncomfortable, doomed path. These turns in the narrative will not be for everyone and are more than a little reminiscent of A Separation. Marital court scenes ensue and the strife in Sara and Hamed’s marriage comes to glaring, merciless light. The ending is not totally surprising either, and arrives abruptly. At only 83 minutes, 180 Degree Rule is perhaps too slim for its own good, as the ending especially could have used some breathing room. Even though the film remains morbidly compelling throughout, it does not linger in one’s mind. It is a motion picture to ponder while it is happening, but once it’s over, there is not much left to contemplate.
However, 180 Degree Rule features devastating performances, especially Sahar Dolatshahi, who commands the film. She navigates through the stark and distant emotions of Sara with conviction, going from kind and helpful to silent and broken. While some may argue that her character does not develop naturally throughout the narrative, the drastic shift in her character feels entirely believable due to the immense trauma she faces. A regular person who is traumatized will not act in a way everyone else would expect of them, and, although this decision may not conform to traditional storytelling tactics, it makes for a more brutal and realistic viewing experience. While 180 Degree Rule is not wholly original and may put off some viewers with its unrelenting darkness, it is an interesting experiment in unconventional storytelling as well as a fairly compelling exploration of grief and morality.
180 Degree Rule will be screened digitally, at the BFI London Film Festival, from Friday 9 October 2020.