Bright Lights Film Journal

IRON ISLAND

While the other party-goers are busy hacking their way through the streamers, balloons, confetti and discarded champagne bottles, I’ll steal a moment away from the opening night festivities here at BLFJ Blog Plaza to post one to watch for:

Beautifully shot on an abandoned and decaying oil tanker barely afloat in the warm turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf, Mohammad Rasoulof’s excellent IRON ISLAND (Jazireh ahani) literalizes the metaphor of “ship of state” to make a witheringly bitter satire that proves relevant not only to the Iranian setting but to the present woeful U.S. situation as well. Here the captain rules his shipboard community with brazen paternalism (“As long as I’m with you, you needn’t worry”), while bulldozing his way through legal niceties (“Just sign the paper, you can read it later”) and fending off any signs of protest by publicly administering draconian punishment, shown in one startlingly effective repetitive dousing that immediately suggests the water-boarding torture familiar in the Middle East (not least at Abu Ghraib). Wasting not a single frame on sentimentality, the director wields his scalpel with wit and accuracy (and colorful music), but this is no parody intended to provoke laughs but rather a true satire where we keep chuckling at the naked nerve of how “leaders” push around “followers”. Ignoring his citizens’ repeated pleas that they’re running out of oil, the commander-in-chief sends his hapless populace off on a religious pilgrimage as a distraction to occupy them while he dismantles the ship into scrap metal hunks to sell off to foreigners. It’s plenty daring for any Iranian filmmaker to critique this convenient use of religion, which leaves them stranded in a barren desert, but Rasoulof takes on local social attitudes too (“She’s my daughter”, says one male. “I’ll kill her if I want to”).