Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Dragon Arrives!

An orange Chevrolet Impala drives across a cemetery towards an abandoned shipwreck in the middle of a desert landscape. It is the 22nd of January, 1965. The day before, the Iranian prime minister was shot dead in front of the parliament building. Inside the wreck, a banished political prisoner has hung himself. The walls are covered in diary entries, literary quotes and strange symbols. Can they help Police Inspector Babak Hafizi in his investigations? Will they shed any light on why there is always an earthquake whenever somebody is buried in this desert cemetery?
Assisted by a sound engineer and a geologist, Hafizi begins his investigations on the ancient island of Qeshm in the Persian Gulf. Fifty years later, their entire evidence, along with intelligence tape recordings, are found in a box, the contents of which attest to the fact that the inspector and his colleagues were arrested. But why? In his new film, Mani Haghighi once again creates a grotesquely absurd experimental set-up. His playful reenactment of mysterious events revolves around a real-life episode – but also imagines a truth of its own. – Berlinale

Still from 'A Dragon Arrives!' (Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!, Dir/scr. Mani Haghighi. Iran. 2016. 107 mins. Ali Bagheri, Amir Jadidi, © Abbas Kosari. Courtesy  Berlinale.

Berlin Review

by Lee Marshall, Screen International

Occasionally a film comes along that is as impressive as it is baffling. Iranian director Mani Haghighi’s fifth feature A Dragon Arrives! is such: a meta-cinematic detective story set in 1960s Iran, shot through with counter-culture references and magical realism, channelling both the Westernised cool of the country’s pre-Revolution intelligentsia and the climate of fear and paranoia engendered by the Shah’s repressive regime.

The director deploys an array of post-modern cinematic tricks, from mockumentary-style interviews, to temporal leaps, cool costumes and set design (especially a flame-orange Chevrolet Impala), to a flamboyantly loud rock-influenced soundtrack by Christophe Rezai. The flash and panache of the style sometimes distracts us from storyline and ten different viewers are likely to have ten different opinions about what actually happened in this film. Whether this narrative obliquity will harm the film’s prospects of being seen by arthouse audiences outside of Iran remains to be seen. Certainly this is a good-looking package, more glamorously cinematic than anything Haghighi has made to date.

At its core, this is (probably) a story about three men who go the remote, desertified Iranian island of Qeshm in 1965 to investigate the aftermath of the suicide of a political prisoner. One, Babak Hafizi (Amir Jadidi) – a trilby-and-shade-sporting detective straight out of a Godard film – works as a detective for the Shah’s secret police, referred to as ‘The Agency’. But his mission here seems motivated by personal curiosity: spending the night in a rusted hulk of a ship that somehow got washed up in a desert valley, near a cemetery where earthquakes take place whenever anyone is buried, he brings two acquaintances to check out the seismic conundrum. One, Keyvan Haddad (Goudarzi) is a mystically-inclined sound engineer whose hippy hair and garb would have been precocious even in mid-sixties America. The other, Behnam Shokouhi (Ghanizadei), is a geologist who can identify rocks by tasting them.

Their story is told partly via flashback, in some visually stunning sequences shot both inside and outside the cemetery keeper’s ship-house in the ‘Valley of Stars’, a Middle Eastern folk tale fantasy location. Other sections are recounted after the event to Saeed Jahangiri (Safamanesh), an interrogator from Hafizi’s own department who has had the three men drugged and abducted.

But there’s also a subplot involving a shark-catching ophthalmologist and another centring on Haghighi’s own film-directing grandfather, Ebrahim Golestan, whose 1968 feature The Brick and the Mirror (clips from which are seen here) is often credited with launching Iranian New Wave cinema. Haghighi himself appears on camera in A Dragon Arrives! as an interviewee, discussing his grandfather and the mysterious casket that was discovered in his bedroom after his death, which links this thread – somewhat tenuously – to the Valley of Stars.

Questions of the shifting line between truth and fiction are just some of the issues raised by a restless, overloaded but never less than fascinating film which may or may not also be an allegory of contemporary Iran and the historical, cultural and religious fissures that run through its recent history – symbolised, perhaps, or perhaps not, by the crevasse-dwelling dragon that gives the film its name, who has the power to make men talk in foreign tongues.

Still from 'A Dragon Arrives!' (Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!) , by Mani Haghighi. Iran. 2016. Amir Jadidi, Nader Fallah © Abbas Kosari. Courtesy  Berlinale.

 Mani Haghighi, 'A Dragon Arrives!' (Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!), © Abbas Kosari. Courtesy  Berlinale.

Actors Homayoun Ghanizadeh, Kiana Tajammol, Ehsan Goudarzi, director Mani Haghighi and actor Amir Jadidi attend the 'A Dragon Arrives!' (Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!) premiere during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Berlinale Palace on February 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. February 19, 2016. Photo Credit: Andreas Rentz; Courtesy  Getty Images.

Press Conference at full length - Friday Feb 19, 2016

Production companies: Dark Precursor Productions in association with Crossfade Films
International sales: The Match Factory,
Producers: Mani Haghighi
Executive producers: Mehdi Davari, Chavosh Shirani, Lili Golestan, Taraneh Alidoosti, Alireza Bazel, Mani Haghighi
Cinematography: Houman Behmanesh
Editor: Hayedeh Safiyari
Production designer: Amir Hossein Ghodsi
Music: Christophe Rezai
Main cast: Amir Jadidi, Homayoun Ghanizadeh, Ehsan Goudarzi, Kiana Tajammol, Nader Fallah, Ali Bagheri, Kamran Safamanesh, Javad Ansari, Shahin Karimi, Leila Arjmand

Via Berlinale and Screen International

1 comment:

  1. A Dragon Arrives was far and away the best title in the Competition not only this year but perhaps over a last decade and that in almost any aspect. I was really frustrated as it earned no awards at all but then I realized, that it just didn't feet into the festival's format, which seems to be more and more driven by serving current political discourse instead of honouring artistic excellence. To make the competition fair this year Berlinale just lacked in films by Tarantino, Lynch and Tarkowski and in screenplays by Bolaño, Eco or Murakami :)