09 20 Oct '24
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Ali Ahmadzadeh

Critical Zone (منطقه بحرانی)

99' - 2023 - Science Fiction, Drama - Dialogue: German, Farsi
Director: Ali Ahmadzadeh Composer: Milad Movahedi With: Amir Pousti, Shirin Abedinirad, Maryam Sadeghiyan, Alireza Keymanesh
Critical Zone - winner of the Golden Leopard - follows a good-hearted drug trafficker in Tehran by night, a city desperate for redemption and furious in its resistance to the current regime.
The hallucinatory reality invades Amir's car as he tries to navigate through a waking nightmare.

During Critical Zone's long-held opening shot, the camera follows an ambulance through a sinister-looking tunnel. The soundtrack also spells doom, although an ambulance is meant to bring rescue. The night remains pregnant with menace as we ride through a sleepless Tehran with empathetic drug dealer Amir, in the Iranian cinematic tradition of Abbas Kiarostami to Jafar Panahi largely from behind the dashboard. Along the way, Amir not only offers drugs to people. He listens to them, comforting those that need it. But his gaze does not lie: he is fuming. Despair and anger echo in his customers' and passengers' desire for pleasure and intoxication. The moans of a woman in the back seat end in chilling and uninterrupted screams.

"This film is a 99 minute scream in the name of rebellion and freedom", the jury of the Locarno Film Festival said of this courageous allegory, which they unanimously honoured with the Golden Leopard. Among other things, the jury praised the daring performances, the extraordinary sound design and the sometimes subdued then inventive photography, including an unusual camera angle that turns the world on its head. A fate shared by Amir and all other oppressed residents of Iran, including director, screenwriter and producer Ali Ahmadzadeh. The Iranian government has officially banned the Tehran-born filmmaker from leaving the country or making films there. With like-minded people among the crew and non-professional actors, Critical Zone was secretly shot on the streets of the capital. Ahmadzadeh's latest regime-critical feature film made it to the Locarno competition, despite frantic attempts from Iranian politicians to prevent it.

In its international title, 'critical' refers to both the critical nature of the film and the critical state of Iran. Even though the female GPS voice warns of imminent danger, more than one hallucinatory reality invades Amir's car. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

“A highly stylized, visceral incursion into an upscale drug dealer’s world set in an eerie nocturnal Tehran, Critical Zone is a major shocker. Reflecting the rage and anger in Iranian society in the distorting mirror of speeding cars and strung out toxic excess, here is a film that takes allegory to exciting and frequently uncomfortable extremes. (...) Innovative as it is, the story revolves around that iconic location of modern Iranian art films: a moving vehicle. (...) Much of the film’s impact comes from its visual and audio special effects. Talented D.P. Abbas Rahimi drains every shot of superfluous color, achieving a chilling sort of nighttime uniformity.” - The Film Verdict

Image gallery

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Ali Ahmadzadeh


Milad Movahedi


Amir Pousti, Shirin Abedinirad, Maryam Sadeghiyan, Alireza Keymanesh


Ali Ahmadzadeh

Director of Photography

Abbas Rahimi


Ali Ahmadzadeh


Ali Ahmadzadeh, Sina Ataeian Dena

Production studios

Counter Intuitive film

More information


German, Farsi

Countries of production

Germany, Iran




Ali Ahmadzadeh
Avantage (short, 2008), Kami's Party (2013), Atomic Heart Mother (2015), Phenomenon (2017), Critical Zone (2023)

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