Bloody Gravel


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Bloody Gravel
"I felt sick after watching it and watched it again."

A Peugeot saloon, one of two. Even as the bottle of water is emptied over the struggling engine not enough to tell if it's a 405 or the Iranian manufactured RD/Roa. That last a possibility because we are in Afghanistan, in the hinterlands. It might matter if this were the variant manufactured under license that was rear wheel drive because of how tightly packed, tightly wound things are.

They are crossing the border. The screen will go completely black on two occasions, the sound completely silent once. The heat of the desert and the blue sky reaching up from the dust will be punctured by screams. There will be yelling, and more.

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The desert is as unforgiving as that of Wake In Fright, the borders as porous as those of Europa, the landscape as hostile as those of Tiger Raid, the morality as conflicted as in Sicario. Inside the car the same claustrophobia as in that shot in Children Of Men where we span helplessly and ostentatiously around a Renault's interior. Take only water, leaving even compassion behind. Think of Mad Max on the Fury Road, of ownership and honour. I felt sick after watching it and watched it again.

Roya and Bashir are travelling together but the circumstances that brought her, pregnant, and him, protective, to people smugglers Saku and Osho are more complex than they first appear. The circumstances that bring the latter to a place where they might meet the former are one of many questions that the film rightly leaves unanswered. It's enough to know the course they are on, the road fate has chosen for them to travel. Hojat Hosseini's film is a difficult watch, despite its wide horizons always close, painfully so. I must confess that my Persian is not good enough to identify the actors by their roles but for all the bodies crammed into seats and trunks and otherwise Bloody Gravel is a tight four-hander that finds traction from strong performances.

There's some cinematographic flair as well. One shot with an embankment as divide that minded me of the railway line through boondock Australia in Wake In Fright, a contrast and connector between that 'there' and civilisation. A sense of heat too, of the oppressive weight of warmth. The desert brings a coldness though, a darkness too. It's not only in the altitude that Bloody Gravel finds ways to force breath to catch, to dizzy. It could, perhaps, have done with a bit more langour, a chance or two to reflect or dread in its mechanical progress. A ratchet may only go one way but it still stops and steps. That said its pace does not so much relent as change, the kinetic become the climactic, velocity become tragedy.

Screening at 2023's Ca'Foscari festival it's one of a strong programme of shorts in the International competition. Run by students, many of the films are themselves a product of young talent. Hosseini's film is made with the assistance of the Iranian Young Cinema Association and is a real indication of talent, both in front of and behind the camera. It is a film unafraid, unflinching, and unapologetically difficult to watch. For a variety of reasons I was minded of Too Rough and the care and attention it used in creating a prison of circumstance, a cauldron of toil and trouble that produced something magical.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2023
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Roya and Bashir are in love and because of the restrictions in Afghanistan they are forced to flee. They hope to enter Iran illegally. Roya is pregnant and the child was not planned. What happens at the border puts the people smugglers they have hired to an unexpected test.

Director: Hojat Hosseini

Year: 2023

Runtime: 18 minutes

Country: Iran


Ca' Foscari 2023

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