‘Careless Crime’ Review: A Time Loop in Iran

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In the films of the Iranian director Shahram Mokri, time ripples, bends, devours itself. Mokri’s prior features, “Fish & Cat” and “Invasion,” have ouroboros-style plots, with recursive chronologies and scenes repeated from various characters’ points of view. His latest, “Careless Crime,” pivots on another kind of time loop: the repetitions of history.

An epigraph tells us of a 1978 fire set off by four militants at the Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, that killed hundreds of moviegoers and incited the Iranian Revolution. In its opening scenes, “Careless Crime” seems to recreate that event, as a theater proprietor argues with two colleagues about adding more seats to his cinema, while a wayward pyromaniac, Takbali, falls in with three Islamist arsonists. But temporal tricks already abound: References to the Shah suggest prerevolutionary Iran, even as the settings — replete with gleaming phones and computers and cars — are contemporary.

Things grow stranger as Mokri begins cutting between Takbali, the theater crew and a film-within-the-film (called, err, “Careless Crime”) about a military captain’s run-in with two women organizing an outdoor screening of “The Deer” in a remote village. (To add to the whiplash: “The Deer” was screening at Cinema Rex during the 1978 fire.)

Mokri constructs his film like a control experiment, tweaking each of its variables — time, space, narrative — as if to see what he might catalyze. At times the results are poetic, as when, in a marvelous feat of both shooting and acting, a sequence of interactions is repeated multiple times within a seamless circular panning shot. At other times, “Careless Crime” feels rather enervating, the film’s political charge and the pathos of its characters diffused by Mokri’s mathematical zeal.

Careless Crime
Not rated. In Persian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 19 minutes. In theaters.

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