Manuscripts Don't Burn

Manuscripts Don't Burn ★★★½

An air of exhaustion, spiritual and psychical, hovers over Rasoulof's stark political thriller, the gloomy, dispiriting pall of the grey winter skies and uniformly dank, dilapidated surroundings—cars zip past on anonymous urban streets, long drives through rural areas emphasize the monotonous emptiness that abounds in desolate landscapes seemingly completely depopulated—reflecting the desperate state the subjects of Iran's oppressive regime find themselves under, haunted by surveillance, persecuted for their thoughts, and condemned to lives of stagnation and paranoia. Against this grim setting, Rasoulof's take-no-prisoners condemnation of the dehumanizing methods employed by the government and its censors carries a grave weight, the awareness of the risks taken by every single member of the production lending a stark gravity to the stripped down thriller's methodical progression as it lays out its grim world, one of brutal consequences and staggering moral compromises which leaves no one unscathed.

Eschewing allegory, poeticism, or concerns for aesthetic beauty, Rasoulof instead opts for a fine tuned directness, the film's determined pace and pared-down plot supported by the density of Rasoulof's portrait, the split narrative focus evincing a scope which encompasses both sides of the bitter battle, documenting the institutionalized efficiency of the state's censorship operations with in a damning indictment which, spares a stirring sympathy for those caught in the wheels of this machine—the compassion for the intellectuals mirrored by the despairing sadness of his portrait of the father pressed into service as an assassin.

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