Cinema Signal:

Digital Filmmaking 101:
An Essential Guide to Producing Low Budget Movies

. "Iron Island" (aka, "Jazireh ahani")

The implications of the title combine a symbol of strength and solidity with a possibility of artificiality and impermanence. In physical terms it is a powerfully visual image of an oil tanker, afloat and at anchor in the upper Persian Gulf off Iran. It's a stunning symbol of rust, decay, corrossion, misuse and the tenuous life of a scappy society hanging by a thread to survival.

Evoking "Waterworld" and the domination of a corrupt captain controlling a crew of criminals in his demented desire to dominate a post bomb world, the captain who controls this ship is more a landlord of tough love and strict rules. He's the co-owner fighting off the desires of his partner to sell the ship for scrap and the government which has eviction of all parties aboard in mind.

Captain Nemat (Ali Nasirian) -- not to be confused with Jules Verne's Captain Nemo but possibly suggested by that literary icon -- is determined to provide shelter for his poor, rag tag tenants. He's the authority and an arbiter, the first and last word on conflicts and tensions aboard, a father-figure and overlord of the maritime community. He's also the only one capable of defusing a Romeo and Juliet case of young love and a father's insistence on choosing his daughter's betrothed. The extent of Nemat's rule is made particularly evident when the raging father submits to the decisions Nemat will make while he's away at work as a fisherman.

But, all is not well with the destiny of the ship itself. When the teacher demonstrates his jury rigged sink indicator to the captain, which attempts to prove that the ship is slowly losing its integrity and is headed for a watery grave, Nemat shrugs it off. But, the truth of it becomes inescapable and the philosopher-king looks for a means to evacuate -- not evict -- his charges to a safe place on land. While he can be as harsh and unyielding as any tyrant at times, his central purpose as protector is a living credo. "As long as I'm with you, you shouldn't worry about a thing," he promises in a speech to his soon-to-be dispossessed shipdwellers.

While there's a certain beauty in the concept of a benign dictator looking out for the survival of a dependent community, the script itself does little to bring us to a close emotional attachment to anyone, a major failing of the writer-producer-director Mohammad Rasoulof, a filmmaker who is as well intentioned as his central figure. But, while we make allowance for a westerner's limited ability to appreciate all the references and cultural subtleties, universal human understandings are unimpaired, as is the message to and allegory about the society as a whole.

To his credit, global and nationalistic politics play no part in the narrative and the film can be highly valued as an example of Iranian cinema artistry in today's Iran. Rasoulof demonstrates an expansive world view and an artistic vision of considerable imagination. Despite his film's technical and editorial deficiencies, he should be encouraged to make more of them. And, if he ever does with a good sized budget, Terry Gilliam ("Time Bandits") had better watch out.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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Ali Nasirian as Captain Nemat
A dictator, a protector.
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