The Peddler

review by Thomas E. Billings

Synopsis: A trilogy of unusual stories set in the slums of modern Tehran, that provide a bleak look at the harshness and cruelty of life. Reminiscent of the films by noted Greek Director Theo Angelopolous, this is an interesting, but also disturbing film. Some viewers will be fascinated, many others repelled by this film.

The first story in the trilogy concerns an impoverished married couple; they are cousins and live in the remnants of an old bus in the slums of Tehran. She is pregnant with her fifth (fourth?) child; her previous children are all severely deformed and handicapped. The couple fears that the new child will also be handicapped. They resolve to abandon the child so it can receive better care. The story concerns the difficulties they face in this effort.

The second story concerns a mentally incompetent young man who lives in a run-down apartment, where he takes care of his elderly, invalid mother. The third story shows the last few hours of the life of a peddler, who is suspected of betraying his suppliers (who are criminals). This part of the story is told from the point of view of the peddler, who has vivid fantasies of his impending death.

The film is a strange mixture -- although it is primarily a gritty, bleak look at life, it also includes elements of fantasy that make it resemble a horror movie at times. The result is a real-life horror film, full of deformed people, crazy people, and brutal criminals.

A comparison to the films of Theo Angelopolous is appropriate here. However, the present film is not as pretentious, nor is it as depressing as, for example, Angelopolous' Landscape in the Mist. The style though, is very similar to Angelopolous.

The film can be interpreted as a sharp criticism of the state of Iranian society at present. However, the major thrust seems to be a criticism of human nature and its failings: the indecision of the parents trying to abandon their child, the way the young man mistreats his mother, and the paranoia of the peddler.

Certain cautions are in order here. The film includes scenes that will offend many viewers: a sheep is killed in a butcher shop; its throat is cut & it bleeds to death; there are also scenes of apparent cruelty to a dairy cow.

Because of the general negative tone of the film, I would not recommend it to a general audience. However, fans of the films of Theo Angelopolous will find it worth considering.

Distribution. Part of a film series, "Iranian Film Now," coordinated by The Film Center, Chicago on behalf of the Farabi Cinema Foundation. Screened at the Pacific Film Archive, University of California, Berkeley. This film may be available on video, if you can find a source for Iranian videos. [It's been released by Facets in the US. Editor's Note]

Copyright 1990 Thomas E. Billings

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