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 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 whose ignorance makes them simply trust those who are always ready to abuse their trust.
Variety, Mon., Feb. 14, 2005
By DEBORAH YOUNG
Ostensibly a fast-paced tale about poor people in the Persian Gulf living aboard a sinking oil tanker, "Iron Island" is a galloping fable full of offbeat characters and entertaining moments. At the same time, it doesn't take much to read this second feature from director Mohammad Rasoulof ("The Twilight") as a sharp-edged allegory about the country of Iran. Festivals will be happy to sail on its irony and invention, though it may take auxiliary engines to market such a hard-to-classify little gem.
In his white turban and long robes, Ali Nasirian's old Capt. Nemat (who is certainly a relative of Jules Verne's Captain Nemo) runs a tight ship. This benevolent dictator is almost a father to the scores of poor, homeless, uneducated families who live on his immensely overcrowded tanker, anchored several hundred yards offshore.
Taking care of "accounts" keeps him in constant motion as he walks through the ship selling everything from medicine to cell phone calls. As a marriage broker, he intervenes in his tenants' most intimate lives. He keeps them swarming around busily all day long, taking the ship apart to sell piece by piece as scrap iron. The fact that the ship's owner and the "authorities" have ordered him to evacuate the place presents no problem. He simply refuses.
Following the illusions he holds up to them, everyone blindly obeys his orders, except the young boy Ahmad (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh), his love-sick assistant. The girl Ahmad pines for (Neda Pakdaman) is the property of her father, who has no intention of selling her cheaply. Ahmad's only contact with his beloved -- who, like all the other faceless women aboard, is hidden behind a sinister black face mask -- is their tender nightly exchange of personal objects through the portholes.
Another beautiful character is the angelic Baby Fish, who spends his time wading through the tanker's bowels with a net, catching small fish that have come in through the holes and gotten trapped. Then he lovingly liberates them into the sea.
Amusingly, the ship is ingeniously self-sufficient. A teacher holds class for the kids, using chalk made from paste poured into empty rifle cartridges. (He waits till the Captain's not listening to slip a few words of truth into his lessons, like the fact the ship is sinking.) Funerals, weddings and births take place on board. Donkeys are brought up on a lift to draw oil out of the tanks. The half-filled barrels are then floated ashore by Nemat's child laborers to waiting trucks.
One wonders where all this is leading, but Rasoulof pulls a satisfyingly disastrous finale out of his hat, sweetened only by the self-liberation of a single character.
Nasirian, one of Iran's most noted actors, commands attention in his malicious portrayal of the captain. In the role of Ahmad, Farzi-Zadeh (the wild, condemned youth awaiting execution in "Beautiful City") incorporates tropes of the non-professional actor in a subdued performance. Rasoulof chooses to keep the masses compact and anonymous, yet emphasizes their humanity through an almost documentary interest in their faces.
Editor Bahram Dehghan deserves a hand for pic's fine, fast pacing that glances over so many things without needing to rub them in. Equally pleasing is Reza Jalali's cinematography, which alternates bright Gulf sunlight with the blackest night interiors. Mohammad-Reza Aligholi's parsimoniously dosed score is an exotic whisper of Oriental music.
The Boston Globe
Boston Globe, The (MA)
November 6, 2005 MAVERICK FILMMAKERS REVEAL IRANIANS' PLIGHT, COURAGE
Author: Janice Page, Globe Correspondent Edition: THIRD
Section: Arts / Entertainment
Estimated printed pages: 4 Article Text:If Spain's overdone hanky soaker, "The Sea Inside," isn't recent enough proof that the foreign film Oscar rarely goes to the best foreign-language film, consider the tale of two entrants in this year's Boston Festival of Films From Iran.First, there's Reza Mir Karimi's "So Close, So Far," the film that Iran just submitted for Academy Awards consideration. It presents majestic desert photography and rich representations of Persian culture by an accomplished filmmaker (see "Under the Moonlight"), but it's also a straightforward melodrama that translates easily and flirts with heresy only so it can arrive at repentance. As usual, the grand life lesson comes down to priorities, this time learned by a self-absorbed neurosurgeon confronted with a grim diagnosis that makes him reevaluate relationships, faith, and his own godlike status. Think Anton Chekhov's "The Doctor," with a forecast for sandstorms.Then there's "Iron Island," a film so s! urprising and powerful that you'd have to be buried in hot sand to resist it."Iron Island" opens this 12th annual festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, which begins Friday and runs through Dec. 4. It's written and directed by Mohammad Rasoulof ("The Twilight"), whose willingness to be pointed and black-humored about the plight of Iran's disenfranchised can't be making it any easier to get domestic screenings. The good news for the rest of the world is that the film is slated for distribution next year by Kino International.Rasoulof's visual and narrative delight takes place aboard a retired oil tanker anchored in the Persian Gulf, where the rusty whale has become a floating tenement for homeless families taken in by a quasi-benevolent power broker named Captain Nemat (Ali Nassirian). The impoverished pay no rent, but Nemat capitalizes on their indebtedness and garnishes their wages for expenses. He also fights to keep his hold over these people even as eviction! looms. You won't soon forget a scene in which a defiant young crewman (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh) is made to pay a heavy price for wooing a forbidden female shipmate."Iron Island" is as wrenching as it is beautiful. The only thing it lacks is the kind of backing that transcends politics, and not surprisingly it's far from alone in that regard. The best films in this MFA festival lineup are once again mavericks, with courageous voices and impressive aim."Poet of the Wastes" is one such feature, directed by veteran cinematographer Mohammad Ahmadi with a screenplay by the revered Mohsen Makhmalbaf ("Kandahar"). Like the city it depicts, Ahmadi's movie is made up of enormous contrasts, and the harshest neighborhoods are always where you find the most romantic souls. Tehran's many unemployed supply a sober backdrop for this story of an overqualified street cleaner (Farzin Mohades) who's intrigued by some of the writing he finds among the trash he's collecting. Mohades's Little Tramp-style performance is not to be missed; he's appealing eve! n when he's stalking the author of those letters.In Mani Haghighi's "Abadan," another festival standout, Tehran is seen from a different perspective: The film is an unromanticized look at a fractured middle-class family so dysfunctional that the elderly patriarch will do anything to escape, including running away with no suitcase. "Abadan" is frank and funny, with a distinct underground feel that separates it from the pack.This year's festival features 13 films covering a typically broad mix that includes war, immigration, marginalization, and women's rights. Some films are gritty and urban, others muted and pastoral. It's an event "for people who want to see excellence in filmmaking, but also people who want insights into life in Iran," explains programmer Bo Smith, the MFA's head of film, video, and concerts. An eagerly anticipated guest is popular writer-director Tahmineh Milani, whose latest sharp-nailed feminist melodrama, "The Unwanted Woman," is slated ! for closing night. Milani will also receive the annual ILEX Foundation Award for Excellence in Iranian Cinema.Other veteran filmmakers represented in this lineup include Bahram Beizai ("Travellers"), whose old-fashioned suspense thriller "Killing Mad Dogs" marks the end of a nearly decadelong hiatus. It's a hard-to-follow and somewhat overplayed return, but worth applauding as a comeback effort. There's also a new excuse to celebrate writer-director Rakhshan Bani Etemad ("Our Times"), sharing credit with Mohsen Abdolvahab for "Gilaneh," a haunting portrait of the epic fallout of war. And Alireza Raisian's "Deserted Station" boasts a story idea by Abbas Kiarostami ("Ten") that's credibly fleshed out in Kambozia Partovi's script about an infertile couple on a pilgrimage. Raisian supplies inspired creative flashes and artful direction that has the good sense to get out of the way.If you like wide-open spaces, there's visual impact in newcomer Abdolrasoul Golbon's "Paradise Is Somewhere Else," which sorts through cultural burdens and! personal ethics via the story of a rebellious shepherd boy. There's also "A Piece of Bread," Kamal Tabrizi's mystical take on mountain life, and Ali Reza Amini's "The Riverside," where it's both amusing and devastating to look in on Kurdish refugees along the Iraq/Iran border.More devastating still is Kianoush Ayari's "Wake Up Arezoo!" a frantic, horrifying 90 minutes spent sifting through the rubble of a powerful earthquake. Its fictional scenes may be far less gruesome than the real thing, but the torture of watching still takes its toll; this one's not for the squeamish, or anyone with kids.And finally, avant-garde minds might appreciate "Portrait of a Lady Far Away," the dark and mysterious writing-directing debut of actor Ali Mosaffa. Even if you find the film too self-conscious, the upside is star Leila Hatami, whose distinctive and enigmatic face also graces "Poet of the Wastes" and "Deserted Station."Oh, and if you're wondering about live musi! c at this festival, it's still a possibility, says Smith he just hasn 't had time yet to focus on bringing back any of last year's entertainment. "This is in many ways the hardest festival to put together," he says with a sigh. For one thing, the best films rarely come through official channels.Janice Page can be reached at
MOVIESCopyright (c) 2005 Globe Newspaper Company
Record Number: 0511060272
Listings for Friday, June 23, through Thursday, June 29, 2006
Capsule by J.R. Jones
From the Chicago Reader
A fascinating allegory of modern-day Iran, this 2005 feature by Mohammad Rasoulof is set aboard an abandoned oil tanker in the Persian Gulf whose autocratic "captain" (Ali Nasirian) presides over a blinkered community of homeless families. (When the children ask their schoolteacher about "the world," he has to explain that they're in it.) The captain strictly enforces traditional moral codes, and the fact that he seems motivated by expediency, not religion, provides one of the movie's sharper edges. A press release cautions that this "tackles issues of governance without placing liberal ideology at the center" and "explores the possibility of a society uncommitted to Western traditions," so as with any allegory, my reading may say more about me than about the filmmaker's intent. In Farsi with subtitles. 90 min.
This movie is currently playing at: Gene Siskel Film Center
Listing for Friday, June 23, through Thursday, June 29, 2006
Born in 1973 in Shiraz, Mohammad Rasoulof is a graduate of sociology from Shiraz University. He has also studied editing in Sooreh University in Tehran. So far, he has made six short films and has assisted many directors. "The Twilight", his first picture, has been awarded world-wide.