Tradition of Lover Killing
starring Hossein Mahjoub, Hossein Abedini, Gohar Kheir-Andish, Arman Nikzad
written and directed by Khosro Masumi
by Walter Chaw An Iranian film of surpassing simplicity and beauty, Khosro Masumi's debut Tradition of Killing Lovers involves a man sent to prison for smuggling lumber. While interred, his young son Jallal tries to pay off the family's debts by running the remote region's lone chainsaw to scattered smuggling camps. Shots of Jallal, impossibly dwarfed by the chainsaw blade poking straight up from a knapsack on his back, framed against a bleak Iranian winter, conjure innumerable visual references from as varied of visionaries as Satyajit Ray and the Akira Kurosawa of Dersu Uzala. Moments where Masumi shows civilization as a series of close-set houses, thick as mushrooms, sprouting corpse white from the blighted earth, hint at the corruption just beneath the surface of what seems a sunny fable. (Not otherwise a supernatural thriller, Tradition of Killing Lovers boasts of one of the most chilling reveals of any film this year.) And though the performances veer from the excellent (Salar, the father, and Jallal) to the Bollywood (sister Majan and her Dudley Do-Right constable/suitor, Latif), with a courtship subplot and kvetching mother threatening at every moment to disrupt the quiet poetry of the central story, it doesn't really matter, as the stars of the show are the Iranian outback and the young boy bravely travelling across his desolate reality. Think of it as an Iranian The Swimmer (the Burt Lancaster film about a man getting home by loping across the backyard pools of his suburban neighbours): at its best a sad, existential journey through the emptiness of the self, interested in something so simple and complex as honouring the father and being to his own self true. Originally published: October 17, 2004.