Manuscripts Don't Burn (4 stars)

Manuscripts Don't Burn

A courageously critical thriller from Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof

Writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof has been a thorn in the Iranian security service's side for years and his latest dry yet bravely critical effort has only exacerbated matters. It's a solemn thriller based on real events that echoes his frustrations and contains its fury, a film that's hopeless and heartbroken from a man who hasn't given up the ghost himself. The courageous cast and crew go unnamed in the credits due to the incendiary nature of the subject matter.

Like Jafar Panahi's remarkable documentary This Is Not a Film, it tells of the persecution of heroically disobedient creatives: the enforced domesticity; the removal of their voice, audience and livelihood; the mistrust and betrayals; the threat of violence should they not obey. It takes in the search for copies of a manuscript which details the attempted assassination of 21 writers and implicates a white-collar security service honcho (himself a former dissident), a bone-chilling character, played to perfection.

Borrowing its title from Soviet rebel Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Rasoulof's film drip-feeds us drama, taking familiar filmic tropes and imbuing them with severity: the thugs for hire are ordinary, impoverished men shorn of style, the story of a bus teetering on a precipice is devoid of farce. However Manuscripts Don't Burn's measured, visually drained approach doesn't always suit the injustice and escalating anguish and it could have done with a touch more ferocity to match its conviction.

Rasoulof's corruption of the everyday means that you won't be able to look at a clothes peg in the same way afterwards. The dejected characters and prosaic, still startling violence tell of a routine, terrifying oppression; it's a story those who live blithely in freedom quite simply need to see.

Limited release from Fri 12 Sep.

Manuscripts Don't Burn - Trailer - Stockholm International Film Festival 2013

Manuscripts Don't Burn

  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • Iran
  • 2h 5min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Mohammad Rasoulof
  • UK release: 12 September 2014

Iranian thriller based on real events; due to the incendiary subject matter, the cast and crew are uncredited. Although it could have done with a touch more ferocity to match its conviction, it's a severe and bravely critical film that those outside Iran need to see.