Lantouri continues where Dormishian’s second feature (I’m Not Angry!) left off, with the same two actors – Baran Kosari and Navid Mohammadzadeh – delivering poignant performances as members of the Lantouri gang. Focusing their felonies solely on the wealthy and privileged, they, along with Reza Behbudi and Mehdi Koushki, tear through Tehran’s rich district mugging people, stealing cars and breaking into expensive homes. The story is given a great delivery—the shift of perspectives from the ongoing series of rapid-fire interviews intervened by the morally dense scenes of dramatic action carry us through two hours of what I can only call emotional turmoil. Made in the style of a documentary, interviews with women’s rights activists, artists, sociologists, students, political hardliners and members of the Lantouri gang keep you engrossed in the upsetting reality of Dormishian’s narrative.
Lantouri gives us several intricate storylines with a slew of characters to digest, weighing the film’s subjectivity on where your attention is drawn. While Dormishian isn’t one to shy away from putting graphic details and violence on the big screen, it was one character in particular who had me truly cringing. Pasha (Mohammadzadeh), a member of the gang, garners your sympathy in the first half of the film as a grounded, compassionate guy with liberal ideas. Enter Maryam (Maryam Palizban), an austere newspaper journalist campaigning to put an end to violence and capital punishment. Pasha falls madly in love with Maryam, who refuses to give him the attention he relentlessly seeks. He deludes himself in this obsession, stalking, bribing, threatening and eventually blinding and disfiguring Maryam, convinced that she would return his love after his incessant efforts. The result is a deeply disturbing account of how one man’s entitlement turns into a gruesome moral tale.
In Shi’ite countries that practice Islamic Sharia law such as Iran, a law exists justifying the perpetrator’s punishment to fit the crime. This is called ‘Lex Talionis,’ which literally means ‘an eye for an eye,’ and entitles victims to seek retaliation where the degree of punishment inflicted corresponds directly to that of the offence committed. Though Maryam has devoted her life to fighting against violent retaliation and begging relatives of victims to forgive murderers so as to end the fight of death with death, she is left horribly blinded and disfigured (consider this a warning—it’s not easy to stomach) and faced with an offering of ‘Lex Talionis.’
“If I can’t have you, no one can.” Pasha’s neurosis is so unnerving it’s harder to bear than Maryam’s injury. Male entitlement is something that has become embedded in our society, with the consummation of women as the norm. Pasha can be seen exemplifying this mentality, as he truly believes that Maryam owes him love. Maryam, an innocent woman and merely an acquaintance of Pasha’s, is stuck at the fringes of his sanity for refusing to return a love she will never have. When you encounter someone so cruel and unjust, so possessive and entitled as to disfigure you for not loving them, would you want retributive justice? It was then that Maryam left behind everything she had fought for in favour of ‘Lex Talionis,’ though the film doesn’t end without giving you one last shock, leaving you to re-evaluate your conscience and compassion.
Director Reza Dormishian is a salient force in new Iranian cinema, creating films of poetic dialogue and allegorical storytelling, which offer social critique on contemporary Iran. A few other prominent new Iranian filmmakers include the likes of Ana Lily Amirpour, Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, and Marjane Satrapi, all of whom are internationally recognised for their recent films dealing with social, political and philosophical issues, marking a turning point in Iranian cinema.