Some poor people in the Southern coasts of Iran do not have any place to live, and thus, they reside on an old, abandoned ship in the sea. Captain Nemat, their chief, tries to persuade the s... Read allSome poor people in the Southern coasts of Iran do not have any place to live, and thus, they reside on an old, abandoned ship in the sea. Captain Nemat, their chief, tries to persuade the ship-owner and the official authorities not to get the ship back. On the other hand, he is ... Read allSome poor people in the Southern coasts of Iran do not have any place to live, and thus, they reside on an old, abandoned ship in the sea. Captain Nemat, their chief, tries to persuade the ship-owner and the official authorities not to get the ship back. On the other hand, he is selling the iron parts of the ship piece by piece. 'Iron Island' is the story of those who... Read all
Settled on an abandoned oil freighter off the coast of an unnamed Middle East peninsula, a rag tag community of squatters is ruled by a wheeling-dealing landlord, a benevolent, Messianic dictator of a captain, like out of a Werner Herzog film, controlling a limited barter economy with the outside world. The huge hulking ship in the bright blue sea is eye-popping, but it even feels like writer/director Mohammad Rasoulof is just pointing his camera at at a documentary of how traditional families adapt to such a physical and economic environment while retaining their social structure with its rigid gender and age stratification.
I equally believed, on the one hand, this could be a post-apocalyptic society as in the "Mad Max" movies or "Waterworld", the new "Battlestar Galactica" or even "Land of the Dead" or, on the other, that it could even have been based on a true story, as much as "Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai)" was based on a real incident in Japan of abandoned children.
But it works equally well visually, emotionally and intellectually as a brilliant allegory, not necessarily of Iran but of any traditional, isolated society with a rotting infrastructure, selling off its resources and émigrés to global capitalism and living off the promises and lies of its paternalistic leaders.
Working under the captain's watchful eye, the frustrated school teacher, a Cassandra-like scientist, uses the Islamic madrassas style of repetitive memorization. But with only old newspapers about a mysterious war and enemy as texts, the students are required to repeat truisms about the glories of living on the sea. Unfortunately, the English subtitles do not translate what is on the black board so some subtleties are doubtless lost.
Just as any society has channeled restless adolescent boys into armies, the "Captain" (a marvelously oily and charismatic Ali Nassirian) organizes the boys on board into teams of coordinated manual labor to salvage resources on the ship that have the breathtaking look of "Nanook of the North" teams ritualistically pulling together for a common goal and their choreography is a wonder. Even so, they still keep trying to get snatches of contact to the outside world with satellite TV and radio.
But we get caught up on in the story of one of these adolescents, his assistant, a lovelorn orphan (played by Hossein Farzi-Zadeh who also movingly played a similar young man in "Beautiful City (Shah-re ziba)"), who stands up to him, recalling "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", or a more cerebral "Star Wars", with an even more dramatically wrenching rebellion. How young love finds an outlet even through elaborate burhkas is a touching tribute to the universality of the human spirit. The audience held their breaths as to who would win the battle of wits and endurance.
Women are especially ground under in this patriarchal society, with physical and labor restrictions and barely puberty arranged marriages around issues of honor. A lack of health care particularly affects the constantly pregnant, child-caring women.
The premise doesn't make 100% practical sense and the ending is so ambiguous that the guy next to me optimistically thought it was happy for all, while I was cynically dismayed. But the images are unforgettable.
- Apr 11, 2006