We’re watching TABOOR by Vahid Vakilifar

28 Jun

Paul F Cockburn straps himself into a cinematic steriliser

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Writer-director Vahid Vakilifar’s Taboor is not an easy film to like. Despite its generally ochre-sepia-red colour template, it is a cold film, full of long, static camera shots that force you to observe what’s happening rather than become emotionally involved with it. The result is a long 84 minutes spent remotely viewing a lone, silent pest exterminator as he calmly makes his way through the underbelly of human technology and engineering, spraying his chemicals around the pipes and ducts of 21st century Iran.

The man himself may be disintegrating: his home is walled with tinfoil and he wears reflective clothing to protect himself from a mysterious microwave radiation which may be cooking him alive. Played with dark-eyed blankness by Mohammad Rabbanipour, the exterminator is essentially good-hearted; we see him help some people push-start their car, for example. Yet the closest thing to actual dialogue in the film is a shared, silent cigarette with a man who later collapses, and possibly dies. It’s more than half an hour into the film before we hear our first spoken words, a voice-over imparting a conversation we significantly didn’t see between the pest exterminator and his doctor, imposed over a static shot of meat shrinking on a pan. And then the voice goes on to tell us that cockroaches are apparently cleaner than humans; it’s just the environment they live in that’s infected. What does that say about us?

Not a lot, as the film soon reverts to its visual stillness and a complex soundscape that mixes the low frequency rhythms of massive engineering with traditional folk music and – in a gesture towards science-fictional verite – a distant snatch of part of the Vangelis score from Blade Runner. The rest of the time, our pest exterminator solidly wanders about in a world that’s remarkably empty of other people. Or even cockroaches.

About 50 minutes in, the film takes a decidedly odd turn when the pest exterminator arrives at some half-lit house, undresses down to his pants and puts a metal bin over his head, watched by a silent, unmoving dwarf with a walking stick, who then leads him into the interior of the building. Left standing alone at the far end of another dark corridor, the pest exterminator becomes the target for an unseen person with, presumably, an air gun – the pellets initially ringing of the metal of the bin, then ever more often hitting flesh. Whether this is the pest exterminator’s way of getting off (his moans are possibly sexual), or the unseen shootist’s, isn’t at all clear; but the pest exterminator does, at least, get his small wounds treated while sleeping in an ornate bedroom with gold-coloured sheets on the bed. Yet, when the dwarf counts out some notes, the scene is deliberately cut so that we’re not sure if he’s going to give them to the pest exterminator or has just taken the money from him.

Taboor is an unsettling, voyeuristic film; a work so distant from the frantic cuts, edits and digitally added camera-flare distraction of modern Hollywood that it feels alien to watch the minutiae of this man’s activities, played out in real time. There are no alien monsters, no leaps of scientific principle and not one hint at the unknown. It is science-fictional in what it leaves out – in its attempt to express the human isolation possible within the present-day world we have, as a species, engineered for ourselves. As the credits rolled, however, I couldn’t help feel that, if this was the intention, it could have done much the same job in barely half the time.

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing; for myself, I believe that the whole point of moving pictures is that they should move – in all senses of the word.

Also on the blog: Paul Cockburn talks to writer Tim Armstrong about his Gaelic-language science fiction.

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