"The Cycle" Review

By Vincent Canby The New York Times

Timeliness has nothing to do with the worth of a film, though it can illuminate its values. "The Cycle" (Dayereh Mina), Darius Mehrjui's Iranian film that opens today at the Public Theater, was made several years ago and was initially banned in its homeland. When it was released for export, the decision, I suspect, was made in an effort to demonstrate the freedom of Iran's artists under the Shah, who was receiving increasing criticism abroad for his repressive political policies at home.

"The Cycle" would be an interesting film under any circumstances, but to realize that it was produced when and where it was adds an extraordinary measure of interest. Here is an attempt to make a sort of Iranian "Shoeshine," and though it lacks the profound irony of Vittorio De Sica's work and is sometimes too pretty, it is a remarkably vivid indictment of the political order that made it possible.

The film is the story of the wayward rise of Ali, a young man from the country, who comes into the city (Tehran, I assume) with his ailing father seeking medical help. The penniless pair - without a stated past and no future - is befriended by several members of the staff of a large, modern hospital. However, Ali can make ends meet only by becoming a member of the half-world that is the connection between the well-fed, rich and powerful, and those who are utterly destitute. Ali will do anything for money, most of it legal but none of it ethical or moral.

I've no idea if "The Cycle" has been cut somewhere along its way to this country, so I can't be sure whether its narrative rambles and jumps by accident or for the purpose of an overly ambitious structure. The film is full of little digressions that are not always dramatic in themselves but are essential to the sense of the movie, which is a devastating picture of a country in the midst of a revolution it doesn't understand and cannot control.

The physical squalor and emotional confusion look Dickensian, though the details are of the 20th century. A commercial blood bank where the sick and the destitute sell their blood looks like Bedlam. The hospital, though airy and clean, is staffed largely by people who are too busy leading their own comparatively affluent lives to give much thought to the patients. Bribery is everywhere.

We see the manager of a chicken farm destroying hundreds of chicks because, as he says, the cost of feed has become so high he can't afford to raise them. When Ali goes into the country, the landscape is no less brutal than that of the city, only somewhat more desolate. In this world, as seen by Mr. Mehrjui, it's always dusk, night or dawn. Even sunlight seems to be out of the reach of these people.

The credits do not identify which actor plays which role, but the performances are uniformly excellent, especially the young man who plays Ali and the old fellow who plays his ailing, ill-tempered father.

It's impossible to respond to "The Cycle" in quite the same way one might respond to, say, a film from Bulgaria. I've a suspicion - based on this one film - that Mr. Mehrjui's highly developed social conscience is not going to be especially pleased in the religious state that Iran's new rulers are likely to set up. What will happen to him?

Originally Published February 13, 1979

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