WOW FILM FESTIVAL: THE DEER | REVIEW
Dir: Masoud Kimiai (1974, 15, 120 mins)
It’s a shame that only a small percentage outside of Iran have seen or even heard of Masoud Kimiai’s landmark work The Deer. Fortunately, with the film being shown at festivals, more people will get to see it.
The film is prefaced by an introduction from director/screenwriter Kimiai: “The Deer was never an apathetic film. It still isn’t.” He goes on to outline the difficulties in making it – subjected to severe government censorship, especially at the beginning and end, it’s shown here in a new telecine of existing materials (a project overseen by Ehsan Khoshbakht) with the original ending. The B&W print is still very scratched and worn, but seeing it at its full-length rather than shortened version, with the intact finale, is exciting.
Made during the Shah’s reign, it exposes the regime’s shortcomings and some of the reasons for his overthrow in the Islamic Revolution that ushered in Ayatollah Khomeini and ended secular rule. Injured bank robber Ghodrat (Faramarz Gharibian) is on the run, searching for a friend from high school: the former underdog’s champion and classmate protector Seyed, played at that time by still-revered actor Behrouz Vossoughi. The mate Ghodrat meets is a shadow of his former self – once cocky and strong as an ox, now a weak and worn-down addict in a low-paying job at the theatre where his girlfriend Fati (Nosrat Partovi) performs.
The intellectual Ghodrat was originally depicted as a leftist guerrilla, the robbery proceeds going towards the socialist uprising to better the population and support their cause – but he was changed to an ordinary thief by government censors. This threw a spanner into the production, changing the whole reason for the character’s being; it makes you ponder his actions, especially at the conclusion. Neither pal can believe what the other has become, but the friends bond again, and their closeness becomes clear. Ghodrat tries to reinstil the confidence and pride Seyed possessed, to convince him to kick his habit and give him a reason for living.
Over the course of The Deer, we see the two discuss life – the past and, mainly, Seyed’s downfall. We see him regain his strength and conviction: protecting Fati from her lecherous actor co-workers, sticking up to the apartment block’s abusive, eviction-happy landlord and vowing to rid his life of drugs. The most poignant scene is a heart-to-heart talk during a drinking/dinner session on the floor, with the camera panning to old photos on the wall.
Kimiai’s film combines the political with the emotional, uncovering socioeconomic problems –poverty, education inequality, drug abuse and a vicious police state. The three main leads are excellent, Vossoughi’s realistic portrayal of a sensitive junkie is The Deer’s core. While the ending is (spoiler alert!) Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid-ish, one can see why this movie comes out on top of Best Ever Iranian Film lists.
The Deer was showing as part of the 2021 edition of WOW Film Festival. Info: www.wowfilmfestival.com
words RHONDA LEE REALI