Young Critics Review: Critical Zone

Stills 8 K00037147
Review 19 Oct 2023
During the Young Critics Workshop at the 50th edition of Film Fest Ghent, five aspiring film critics (ages between 18 and 26) from Belgium and from abroad write reviews and essays on our festival films.

The surprisingly fruitful genre of the Iranian car movie gets a sterling new entry with Ali Ahmadzade’s Critical Zone, which follows Amir (Amir Pousti), a Tehran drug dealer, on his nighttime rounds across the city. That premise practically screams the phrase ‘seedy underbelly’, but Ahmadzade’s Tehran is more like a Wonderland, even as one of his intentions here is clearly to depict corners of Iranian society that officially don’t exist.

Amir is a Schraderesque character – nocturnal, watchful, transcendentally lonely – but the film finds a sly humour that tinctures what could easily remain monochrome gloom. In one sequence, which is imbued with a species of oddness so specific that its surreality tips over into verisimilitude, Amir visits a grimy retirement home and helps the nurse dole out some of his homemade weed muffins. As most of the residents enter a blissful fugue state, stoned out of their gourds, one of them strikes up a conversation with Amir about Farsi poetry. The pair quote and discuss lines by Forough Farrokhzad and Mehdi Akhavān, while Mystery, Alaska plays on the TV behind them. It’s one of several moments in the film in which Amir acts as a strange kind of Hadean social worker.

Ahmadzade goes for some stylistic flourishes – artificial reverb on the soundtrack, sped-up shots of traffic, a camera attached to Amir’s steering wheel – that emphasize the queasy uncanniness of Tehran after dark, but the film already evokes its haunted world of streetlight amber and headlight white so strongly that they seem supernumerary. Nevertheless, even the occasional sense of throwing everything at the wall suggests not loose eclecticism but simmering rage. This is not a film about angry people, but it is an angry film, determined to do justice to the other Tehran – a world of users, dealers, queers and sex workers that has its own improvised forms of care.

Sam Warren Miell

Sam Warren Miell comes from Lewisham in South East London, and writes about film and art when he's not doing his day job in the charity sector. His academic background is in English literature, where he worked on the Romantics and recent British avant-garde poetry. This dual interest in the canonical and the experimental also maps fairly well onto his cinematic proclivities, which span from Ford and Hawks to Benning and Rousseau.