Even from the very first scene, 180° Rule is lathered with a sense of dread and unease, setting the stage for a divisive exploration of both grief and atonement on the background of customary Iranian traditions. Farnoosh Samadi’s first feature is a technically impressive debut but unfortunately falls short of being an accomplished piece of dramatic storytelling.
The film revolves around a middle-class family in Tehran, where Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi) and Hamed (Pejman Jamshidi) are parents to 5-year old Raha. Their plans to attend a family wedding outside of the city are thwarted when Hamed has a last-minute work commitment. Sara ends up taking Raha to the wedding anyway, despite Hamed’s insistence on staying with city grounds. When tragedy befalls their trip, Sara’s world comes to a crashing halt, and what follows is a depiction of how she navigates the tortuous road ahead.
A lack of clarity in character motivations
Samadi establishes the narrative setup of 180° Rule with efficiency and confidence, making it clear that the film will enter some of the darker corners of the human condition. There’s an ominous tone that latches onto the film’s genetic structure, which helps frame the narrative in the exact direction it needs to travel. The problem is, once the story starts moving at full speed, the film begins to lose its sense of direction. Sara’s response to an unimaginable event is the centerpiece of 180° Rule, and her decisions throughout the film are simply hard to follow. Her state of mind is understandably shaken, but the lack of clarity when it comes to her motivations as a grieving protagonist is momentously frustrating.
This lack of clarity also bleeds into the film’s supporting characters, with Sara’s family seemingly just as uncertain about their own motives. And maybe this was intentional, with Samadi trying to create a narrative depiction of confusion and uncertainty during these types of life situations. But even if that were the case, the film as a whole isn’t angled with a lens of ambiguity, as demonstrated by the assured direction in its opening acts. The result is something that ends up feeling somewhat misguided for a film that rests heavily on exploring both personal and family dynamics in a dramatic fashion.
Not capitalizing on the sum of its parts
Ignoring the lapses in character development, 180° Rule does offer an interesting glimpse of some of the persisting gender inequalities in Iranian culture. Without ever being too heavy-handed in expository dialogue, the film does a good job of detailing the social background in which the narrative inhabits. The almost bleak colour palette used by Masoud Salami also helps prognosticate the overall moment of the film, which heightens the appropriately dark undertones that Samadi seems to favour.
The score by Peyman Yazdanian also captures the brooding qualities of the story, while never accentuating emotions in an overly obvious manner. Dolatshahi is also quite moving in her performance of a shattered mother, despite there being some major flaws in the characterization itself. Jamshidi has a bit less to work with as the character of Hamed is never fully fleshed out in the film, but his restrained anger and sadness come through nonetheless. All this is to say that the individual pieces of 180° Rule can be quite accomplished, but the film simply isn’t able to capitalize on the sum of its own parts.
Because 180° Rule is first and foremost a character-driven drama, the lack of thoughtfully derived characterizations makes it impossible to praise the film as a whole. Samadi should still be lauded as a promising filmmaker given the technical merits of her efforts here, and will hopefully have a more developed narrative to work within her next film.
Watch 180° Rule
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