Lex talionis; this is a judicial term I will not quickly forget. In the Iranian justice system it is the right of a victim to retaliation, to demand that the punishment inflicted correspond in degree and kind to the offence. This was touched on in Sound and Fury, where a victim’s family had the power to forgive or to ask for the death penalty. In Lantouri, retribution and forgiveness are at the core of the story and we get to see it from many viewpoints.
Lantouri translates as leech or parasite and it is the name of a gang of con artists led by the charismatic and idealistic Pasha. The film seems to begin as a documentary with interviews to camera by various people denouncing or supporting Pasha and his accomplices. Staccato camera montages are accompanied by the sound of a clicking shutter as if we are watching a police report. We hear about Maryam, an advocate for juveniles charged with murder and she is passionate about trying to convince families to choose forgiveness.
At first the style of the film is episodic and we are unsure what has happened, what is being investigated. It is hard to engage with the characters but slowly the story of Maryam and Pasha deepens and we realise what the film is about. The power of the film is the characterisation of Pasha; he is charming, a protector of disadvantaged children, he cries when he has to kill someone. There is an uneasiness though as we see his actions, the look in Baroon’s eyes as she must seduce another mark, the extent of his obsession with Maryam. By the end, his true nature is revealed and so we share the dilemma of how to judge his fate.
There is a clear message, about violence against women, that is told well and generally with restraint, bar a little proselytising and a didactic coda that wasn’t needed. The drama that builds toward the end is excruciating and you won’t forget it easily.
Screened as part of the Iranian Film Festival and on limited release at ACMI.
Bechdel test – fail