Metri Shesh Va Nim
starring Payman Maadi, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Parinaz Izadyar, Hooman Kiaee
written and directed by Saeed Roustayi
by Walter Chaw With only ten minutes left in its running time, Saeed Roustayi's Just 6.5 introduces a brief musical sting in a film that, up to that moment, had relied entirely on diegetic audio and long, rapid-fire monologues delivered at high volume and intensity for its soundtrack. Said cue highlights erstwhile villain Nasser Khakzad (Navid Mohammadzadeh) drawing a line in the sand in a matter concerning the dispensation of a house he's bought for his parents. It's the fulcrum on which the entire film rests: not whether or not the Iranian state will confiscate a home, but the level of desperation that drives the lower classes into crime--and then the addictive nature of wealth that makes it impossible to retire from crime. As Nasser confesses when asked why he didn't quit while he was ahead, "My eyes were still hungry." The whole film is about the question of class and the possibility of ever climbing from one to the next. Everything in Just 6.5 is a barter at the world's late-capitalism bazaar. For instance, the crazed narco cop on Nasser's tail, Samad (Payman Maadi of A Separation), is dangled a bribe by drug lord Nasser that would essentially vault him into a different circle. It's a boost he needs, we gather from a few tossed-off comments about his kid and a phone call he gets at the worst time that he has to take while the whole world is crowding in around him. He doesn't take it because of "his honour," but he might as well have. It makes no difference.
The first half of Just 6.5 is about the process Samad and Hamid navigate through the Iranian justice system to get Nasser into custody. The second half deals with how Nasser moves through incarceration to trial, with Samad and Hamid having to deal with the repercussions of inconsistencies in their past arrests and this current one, too. Over it all hangs the certainty that everyone has a price, and most have more than likely succumbed to the temptation of financial--and professional--security at some time or another. A late exchange in the chambers of an implacable Judge (Farhad Aslani) plays like any courtroom sequence in Kafka as the bad guy makes accusations against the good guy while the Judge, being the bureaucratic manifestation of a sheaf of documents, decides he'll put everyone in the same prison cell for a few days until he can sort it all out. Just 6.5 is extraordinary because it's conscious and outraged but not tedious about it; contemporary and alive in telling a complicated story without being complicated about going about it.
Consider a subplot involving a disabled man (Asghar Piran) who has trained 12-year-old son Vahid (Yusef Khosravi--a find) to steal and distribute pills under the misconception that children can't be jailed--and the moment where Vahid realizes that no one, his father included, is interested in helping him out when the chips are disastrously down. It's something that could be played for maudlin sentimentality; Roustayi plays it instead as a very subtle insinuation that for every Nasser you put away, there's a Vahid being groomed to take his place. Just 6.5 in this way becomes a pointed critique of systemic notions of crime, punishment, and rehabilitation against a reality of systemic injustice and wide-ranging poverty. Another massive police roundup at the midway point at an industrial wasteland stacked with concrete tubes packed with druggies and whores (along with their dealers and pimps and sometimes corpses) suggests, when compared against the over-crowded, sweltering communal jail cells in which they're promptly sardined, that there's really not much difference between freedom and imprisonment. There is an unbridgeable gap between the haves and have-nots, and the only distinction between Iran and America is that they don't appear to dangle the carrot of the "American Dream" in Iran.
The best scene in a film full of exceptional scenes is the interrogation of a young woman, Elham (Parinaz Izadyar), who has some distant connection with Nasser. She gives her reasons for cutting ties as one of "class"--not economic or social, but that Nasser refused to stop selling drugs, which suggested to her a certain failure to uphold some vaguely-held notion of a moral class. Samad, for his part, dealing with his own marriage inconveniences and wrestling with his status and delayed promotion on the force, is relentless in applying the screws to her until, her new engagement threatened, she relents. Just 6.5 is an example of how everyone in a film can be unlikeable and ambiguous and also virtuous and true. Everyone is Valjean and everyone is Javert, and it's discovered, The French Connection-like, that all of this noise was likely for naught, because even if Nasser was the head of this organization, more likely than not he was not. There are always more organizations and more people desperate to buy themselves out of their various prisons. Just 6.5 feels hopeless and manic in the same breath. It's timely as hell.