Awarded at the Detective Film Festival, Saeed Roustayi’s feature film combines action scenes and tense dialogue to delve into the heart of drug trafficking in Iran.
The opening sequence is not recommended for heart patients. We’ve seen a bunch of them, on screens, police raids and chases in the streets of metropolises around the world. But those orchestrated by Saeed Roustayi in Tehran have little to envy the William Friedkin of The French Connection. Same alloy of realism and adrenaline. And even pessimism. The outcome is a cul-de-sac, or rather a hole, a perfect metaphor for a society of buried alive.
Tehran Law features a narcotics squad in search of a drug trafficker, Naser Khakzad. At its head, Samad, played by Peyman Maadi, the actor ofA separation, by Asghar Farhadi. Neither tender nor crude, pragmatic. Slaps and threats can be effective. We think of L627 of Bertrand Tavernier and his agents fighting without means against drug trafficking in a miserable Paris. Samad and his team cast a wide net in the slums to talk about drug addicts and dealers and go up to the big guys.
The method is laborious, trying. It allows to track Naser Khakzad. An ex-girlfriend or obese “mules” arrested at the airport on their way to Japan tighten the noose. No downtime or digression in this dive into Iranian drug trafficking. No family breathing for the police, no barbecue with colleagues. Everything for the investigation and its ramifications. The interrogations and their dialogues on the line have the same tension as the action scenes.
Saeed Roustayi’s thriller changes gear without warning. It offers a painting of an edifying Iranian police station. In the same cell are piled up bosses, drug addicts and children. In this Court of Miracles, an old crippled recidivist is ready to put the hat on his son and send him two years in a rehabilitation center rather than take responsibility and go back behind bars.
A desperate world
Justice is also shown as an arbitrary and inefficient system. The police have as much to fear as the suspects in the judge’s office. With a snap of his fingers, an investigator can be accused of corruption and find himself handcuffed to a radiator or a stair railing, trapped among those he has just arrested.
Doubly awarded the Grand Prix and the Critics’ Prize at the last Detective Film Festival, in full transfer from Beaune to Reims, Tehran Law confirms that the thriller is still moving. And that the United States or France are no longer its most fertile territories. “When I started this job, there were 1 million drug addicts, now there are 6 million.” Samad’s disillusioned observation proves that the Islamist republics are fighting the same battles as the Western democracies. And that they undergo the same failures, in spite of a more ferocious repression.
In Iran, a consumer caught with 30 g or a dealer with 50 kg receives the same penalty: hanging. At this price, you might as well play big. The sale of crack has exploded in the land of the mullahs.
In this desperate world, even drug dealers want to kill themselves. “They resuscitated me the better to kill me”, notes Naser Khakzad. Saeed Roustayi does not make him a victim. Its lack of complacency does not exclude complexity. Basically, the little baron is not the worst link in the deadly chain of crack. He is only one of the highest ranking officers.