Iron Island

Mohammad Rasoulof's heartfelt and darkly comic second feature proves beyond any doubt that Iranian film is still alive and well, despite waning Western interest in one of the world's richest contemporary cinemas. The "island" of the title isn't really an island at all, but rather the rusting hulk of an abandoned oil tanker anchored several hundred feet off...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Mohammad Rasoulof's heartfelt and darkly comic second feature proves beyond any doubt that Iranian film is still alive and well, despite waning Western interest in one of the world's richest contemporary cinemas. The "island" of the title isn't really an island at all, but rather the rusting hulk of an abandoned oil tanker anchored several hundred feet off the Iranian coast. Under the paternal eye of "Captain" Nemat (Ali Nasirian), it's become home to a motley crew of citizens with nowhere else to go. Many are widows whose husbands were killed in the Iran-Iraq war; others are wives whose husbands spend much of the year at sea. Kindly despot Nemat oversees every detail of this society's governance, from providing a proper education for the ship's many children and prescribing ointment for an old woman's sore knee to making sure the baker has enough flour. In many ways, it's a socialist utopia: Everyone works to the best of his or her ability, expenses are deducted from each tenant's salary and whatever's left goes back into the maintenance of the ship. But their modest profits — including the money made from selling off what's left in the oil tanks — can't support a ship that size, and the resident teacher has invented a device that only confirms what he's suspected for some time: The ship is slowly sinking. At first, Captain Nemat refuses to believe it and turns his attention to more pressing concerns. Young Ahmad (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh) has fallen in love with the daughter (Neda Pakdaman) of an imposing sailor who leaves his daughter aboard Captain Nemat's floating commune for weeks at a time. She loves Ahmad as well but is engaged to a wealthy older gentleman. Now it seems dishonor is about to taint the impending match, despite Captain Nemat's promise to keep an eye on the young woman. And whether or not Captain Nemat chooses to believe the teacher's calculations, he'll have to soon evacuate the ship anyway: The rightful owners have resurfaced and are demanding that the tenants vacate their vessel so it may be sold for scrap. Refusing to abandon his ship or its "passengers," Captain Nemat begins devising a plan to find them all a new home. Rasoulof tells his short tale with a deceptive simplicity that can sometimes disguise its sophistication, but not the film's startling visual poetry. The ship is a strong symbol of any nonindustrialized country whose finite natural resources have run their course and is now in danger of going under. The ending is as thoughtful as it is ambivalent, and the short scene in which the teacher molds fresh chalk in old bullet casings is as direct and vivid an antiwar symbol as any filmmaker has ever devised.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Mohammad Rasoulof's heartfelt and darkly comic second feature proves beyond any doubt that Iranian film is still alive and well, despite waning Western interest in one of the world's richest contemporary cinemas. The "island" of the title isn't really an i… (more)

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