The Peddler | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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An impressive, often powerful Iranian feature (1987) by Mohsen Makmalbaf--who started out as an anti-Shah activist and fiction writer--composed of three sketches dealing with the poor in Tehran. The first, freely adapted from an Alberto Moravia story, follows the appalling misadventures of an impoverished couple with four crippled children as they try to get their fifth and latest child adopted, in the hope that she won't wind up crippled as well. The second follows the equally pathetic life of a scatterbrained, spastic Jerry Lewis type who devotes his life to caring for his aged and senile mother. (The couple from the first part reappear briefly in this episode.) The third part, shot in film noir style, is largely devoted to the grim fantasies of a clothes peddler who is afraid of being killed by fellow traffickers. Each episode has a different cinematographer (like most of Kieslowski's recent Decalogue), and all three are shot very adroitly and fluidly, although the more self conscious stylistics of the third part sit rather oddly with the first two episodes, which are often much closer to neorealism. According to Makmalbaf, the film as a whole deals with the three stages of man--birth, "journey through life," and death. Critic Gerald Peary has compared the film to Rossellini's Paisan, and it's certainly true that the first episode is as wrenching as anything in that film or Germany Year Zero. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, November 10, 8:15, 443-3737)

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