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20th Circuit Suspects 1980
Description: After having his vehicle stolen, Iranian filmmaker Hesam Eslami meets Ehsan, the leader of an adolescent crime gang that breaks into vehicles regularly. What forms is a close relationship between the director and the members of the group, following their steps for six entire years. 20th Circuit Suspects provides an intimate look into Ehsan and the gang's life by documenting thefts, wild chases, running from the police, imprisonment, release and, ultimately, the gang splitting up.
Released: N/A Director: Hesam Eslami Writers: N/A Actors: N/A Genres: Documentary, Crime
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20th Circuit Suspects Reviews:

What a director frames out of his movie often illuminates the reasons for what is included. This Iranian documentary about a gang of young thieves is a basic situation in point. Director Hesam Eslami traces six years in the collective life of the thieves he met when they stole his car. Instead of turning them in he befriended them, won their confidence then turned them into the topics of his film. We come to it with a firm set of expectations of "Iran." You know Iran. It's the corrupt, renegade theocracy that funds international terrorism, plots to become a nuclear threat to the world, vows to destroy Tiny Satan Israel and Nice Satan America, oppresses its citizens, persecutes girls and gays, and suppresses any independence. Nothing of any of that appears in this film. There is no reference to religion, to theocratic or misogynous oppression, to sharia law, to anything specifically "Iran." Instead, the storyline of life on those roads ignores that national context entirely. The gang-life in this Iran should be set anywhere in the world. This movie averts the clash of cultures in which Iran is usually viewed and instead discovers the universality of the street-level life. Eslami confirms what I overheard an American tourist in Spain (around 1970) observe to her husband: "I say you Sam, wherever you go, anywhere in the world, folks are people." Simple to tell that, somewhat harder everytime to feel. The film's driving thesis is what the director does. Instead of punishing his offenders he wants to investigate their humanity. Instead of packing them off to jail he gets to know them. He keeps in touch with the ones who do receive jailed. He follows the gang's attempts to spring those. And in the situation of Ehsan, Eslami gently promotes the young gangster's shift into honest citizenship. If there is any religion in this movie it's the Muslim director's implicitly espousing the Judeo-Christian ethic of self-sacrifice, forgiveness and generosity towards the afflicted. The scarcity of this value in actual American Christianity only amplifies the power of this director's choice. Of course we can't ignore the forceful context of the film, even if it's not cited. Eslami's example - its hero and its albeit limited success - is an instructive alternative to our customary response to "Iran." Whatever the rhetoric and plotting conducted by our respective governments, their folks are not just our opponents but part of our common brotherhood of mankind. This is a counter to our bellicose governments but also a corrective to the citizenry perhaps too eager to purchase into their leaders' prejudices. In this light the film's features resonate meaning. The melody embodies the interface between traditional Iranian and global pop. So too the bonus placed on stolen vehicle stereos confirms the society's sire for cultural outreach. The movie opens and closes on Ehsan's fresh job, cutting and securing strips of veneer in construction. What's the veneer here and what the substance? Is Eslami's reminder of our brotherhood with Iranian gangsters a deceptive cover over our political gap, or is our leaders' antagonism the disguise of our shared humanity? The film's sentimental power helps the latter. When Ehsan's wife gives birth to a son she is surprised that Eslami would visit her. In her life, her husband's mate is still an outsider, a social superior, and she is surprised and flattered by his attention. Perhaps that catches the Iranian citizen's feeling of isolation from the populations their governments have forced upon them. As Willy Loman's wife reminded us, too late, "Attention gotta be paid."



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