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8/10
Haunting images never before seen in an Iranian-made movie
kourosh10121 March 2006
I saw this movie in San Jose at the Cinequest festival. It was inspired by a real-life case involving a series of murders in the city of Mashhad - Iran's holiest city.

For me - a native of Iran - this was perhaps the first Iranian-made movie with a truly life-like portrayal of police investigations, murder, and discovery of the villain. The Sufi-like dances and ritualistic gatherings in this movie are completely unique, and at the same time haunting. There are elements of reality as well as fiction blended together, and when put together with the fast edits and dark cinematography make this a worthwhile experience.

But be warned - as the movie stays with you for a few days.
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6/10
Frightening, Powerful, and Hopeless
dgaither7 March 2006
I saw this at Cinequest, the San Jose Film Festival in March of 2006. The story is about a middle-aged detective, beaten down by life and bureaucracy, until he seems just barely able to pull himself through each day. He's also a drug addict, smoking something, but I'm not sure if it's hash or opium. He's investigating a series of murders of prostitutes in the slums of Tehran? The movie is in Farsi, with English subtitles, so I didn't catch all the details.

What makes this movie different from the other 100 serial killer of prostitutes being pursued by a burnt out detective movies you've seen is it's presentation of the physical and cultural deterioration of Iran. The rain-soaked scenes in the ancient alleyways look like something out of Blade Runner, except this isn't some sci-fi fantasy, but modern reality. There's a religious school that figures in the story and the rituals that these disciples engage in are truly frightening, particularly the lengths they go to for self-punishment and repentance.

It's relentless in its portrayal of corruption and cynicism at the higher levels of society, even as those at the lower depths literally give their lives for their piety. Not all those in power want the killings to stop because they're "cleaning up the city".

This movie is chilling in its portrait of a culture deconstructed by religious fundamentalism and it will make you despair of being able to reason with those fundamentalists at the heart of the Islamic Jihad.
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6/10
Stranger than fiction
threeJane13 June 2009
There aren't that many Iranian films around, so I will see any that come my way.

From early in the film, it was clear that it wasn't about the usual Iranian social issues. Firstly, there was this cult of men called neophytes (the name suits their appearance) who are subjected to the usual fear, sleep-deprivation, and pain to ensure they continue to follow the Master. The Master is your stereotypical cult leader.

The cult lives in the poorest (oh God, let it be the poorest) area of the city of Mashad, in relatively salubrious and warm surroundings. Outside of the flickering firelight of the vaulted building which houses the cult, a seemingly endless number of starving prostitutes and their children beg and freeze and try to keep clear of the serial killer who is killing several prostitutes a day.

I could not get used to the filth, poverty and suffering depicted. In fact, it still disturbs me.

After the night-time dancing of the neophytes, a man and his belongings get off a bus. At this point, I was wondering if I was going to be able to follow it. Then I quickly realised that the man had come to town to solve the serial murders. (At least, I think that's what happened. Please don't anyone burst my bubble.) From this point on, the film is a standard murder mystery (albeit an Iranian murder mystery). Yes, the cult continues to feature, but don't they so often in a murder mystery? Some very unremarkable things happen, particularly around the police investigator, and you might predict the ending. In other ways, the film gets more and more bizarre.

When the credits revealed that it was based on a true story, that explained everything. For me, when something is stranger than fiction, that's because it usually isn't fiction. It really was a strange film, and I'm glad it was made.
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