An Obvious Allegory


The second feature by Mohammad Rasoulof is an obvious allegory. But it’s an unusually vivid, even visceral one for being set almost entirely on an abandoned oil tanker—a corroded planet adrift in the azure cosmos of the Persian Gulf. Rife as it seems with political points, Rasoulof’s fable might almost be a kid’s film were it not for a disturbing sequence in which the kindly old captain turns abruptly cruel and tortures a teenage runaway by repeatedly dunking him in the drink. It’s an object lesson for his people: “If I let him go there’ll be chaos on this ship.” Part Pentateuch, part Animal Farm, Iron Island is closer to Makhmalbaf faux naïveté than Kiarostami modernism. Depending on one’s mood, the movie might seem boldly simplified and poetic—or boringly simpleminded and prosaic. Either way, Iron Island poses the question that was always asked of movies produced behind the Iron Curtain and later in China: How was it shown at home and what does it mean there?

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