"Corrupted Hands" Review

By Robert Koehler Variety

Testing the maxim that there's no honor among thieves, "Corrupted Hands," from the commercial arm of Iranian cinema, is a genre heist piece that at times seems slavish in its application of American movie conventions, at others promises more, but finally delivers nothing but limp melodrama. Writer-director Cyrus Alvand's 12th film reps the latest in a series of four-walled features presented by the Iranian Film Society which reveal what everyday Iranian moviegoers line up for (as opposed to those approved by Western fests). But an abrupt one-week premiere run in L.A. suggests this will be a poorer Stateside performer than such previous releases as "Hemlock."

Basing the morality tale-cum-thriller on a story by Tirdad Sokhavi, Alvand -- best known for Fajr festival winners "Once and for All and Cardboard Hotel" -- aggressively goes in the opposite direction of his fellow internationally lauded directors. Rather than resisting genre formula, he wallows in it; rather than visually couching the movie in detailed specifics, which then become universal, he tends toward types, if not downright stereotypes. At first, what Siamak (Abolfazi Pour-Arab) and Nader (Amin Hayayi) apparently do for a living looks like a lark: They buy pigeons and a pair of horses for a lavish wedding ceremony which they arrange for ostentatiously wealthy clients. Siamak's longtime partner, Diba (Hedieh Tehrani), is expert at setting traditional wedding tables, aided by Nader's fiance, Roya (Elham Imani).What the generally savvy Diba doesn't know is that Siamak is arranging his own wedding to Nasrin (Asel Badiie), who is doted upon by her father (Saied Pirdoust). What we eventually grasp is that Siamak's group is really a bunch of thieves.

The movie feels stuck in place even before the story kicks in, partly because it fails to see the humor in the situations and relationships it sets up. Spryer filmmakers would get considerable irony out of Siamak's position, a crook who finds himself relentlessly grilled by his future father-in-law. Siamak's plan is to snatch up the wedding gifts after the ceremony, but he can't help but ask Nasrin what she'd think of him if she knew he were a robber. It seems that his emotions are getting the better of his professional side, but his gang does the job anyway. During the nighttime getaway, Siamak all but ensures that his plan will go awry: Rather than heading directly to his fence, he hides when he notices they're being tailed, and then confronts his shadow -- a mean-looking guy named "Bad" Nasser (Shahab Asgari).

Nasrin's father has hired Nasser -- a known criminal -- to tail Siamak. Unexpectedly, this plays into pic's most interesting stretch, as each character begins to suspect everyone else's motives. It's boilerplate film noir material, played as grimly as possible, as if this kind of story were being told for the first time.

Soon, it becomes easy to wish that this had been Tehrani's movie: With her resplendent face slightly worn down by life with Siamak, Tehrani's Diba has a frustrated mind and will of her own, and the thesp lets us view it all through her stunning eyes.

While the print is better than some previous ones in the four-walled roster, the subtitles occasionally make a hash of vital statistics, such as the actual worth of the stolen goods. Action set pieces on busy Tehran boulevards must have been hell to stage, but still resemble chase scenes in TV network shows from the '70s. Babak Bayat's music would be fine only on low volume in a Persian restaurant.

Originally Published June 7, 2001

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