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behind the serial killer, religious fanaticism

THE OPINION OF THE “WORLD” – TO SEE

Presented in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Nights of Mashhad is the third feature film by Ali Abbasi, an Iranian filmmaker who has lived in Europe since 2001. The strong impression it made on the Festival audience is undoubtedly based on the way in which the story told there is constantly subjected to the stimulation of a seemingly more trivial art. The adventures and conventions of genre or exploitation cinema are used here to look at a society experiencing its own contradictions. It is a form of hybridization which would bring not the horror film towards the subject of society, but the symbolic news item towards a cinematographic terror of series.

Nights of Mashhad is based on a series of murders that occurred in 2000 in the city of Mashhad, located in Iran, near the Afghan border. The filmmaker admits to having been influenced by a documentary by Maziar Bahari, who returned to this affair two years later. Several prostitutes had been murdered by a serial killer, who turned out to be a religious fanatic determined to purify the city and cleanse it of all moral corruption. Having become a sort of paradoxical hero for a section of public opinion, he was nevertheless condemned to death and executed.

Superposition of glances

The first part of the film, shot in Jordan, far from the radar of Iranian censorship, follows the investigation of Rahimi, a female journalist (it was Zar Amir Ebrahimi who won the prize for female interpretation) determined to discover the identity of the culprit by taking senseless risks, in the face of what looks like a mixture of incompetence and incompetence of the police investigation. Alongside her journey, the film focuses on the murderer, builder and father who, at night, travels the streets of Mashhad on a motorbike, pretends to be a customer and strangles his victim, once at her, before depositing her body in a vacant lot.

This ambiguous relationship to what is exposed, this alternation of bad enjoyment and compassion, no doubt reflects the very complexity of the environment and the situation described.

This alternation of points of view, that of the investigator and that of the killer, is truly part of a desire to fire on all cylinders, to use the narrative principles of various cinematographic genres. But, above all, this superposition of gazes is weighted down in an insistent way of dealing with violence. The atrocity of the murders and the vain and derisory resistance of the victims are exposed with an often disturbing precision. It is in the use of this rhetoric of horror, supported by the use of disturbing music, that the filmmaker’s gaze seems to lie. A gaze less denunciatory than complacently nihilistic. But this ambiguous relationship to what is exposed, this alternation of bad enjoyment and compassion, no doubt reflects the very complexity of the environment and the situation described.

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