Iron Island

Iron Island


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Deep in the Persian Gulf lies a slowly sinking oil tanker, residence to hundreds of poor, destitute and abandoned people. The ship is their home, school, mosque and livelihood. For some, it is all they've ever known, born and raised on the rusting hulk. Every man, woman, child and goat is under the command of the all-controlling Captain Nemat, who arranges marriages, organises work, signs the paperwork and deals out punishment. When government officials arrive to try and have the ship condemned, will he leave them to sink, or force them to swim?

Iron Island is the second feature by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof. The story of the boat and its inhabitants is one of extreme hardship and complicit exploitation. Unlike the plodding and bleak struggles often portrayed in Iranian cinema, Iron Island is a stunning visual experience; golden sunsets and the azure seas contrast with the decrepit and decaying remains of the abandoned tanker and its impoverished inhabitants, while slow motion photography is used to memorable effect in several beautifully shot scenes.

Copy picture

Ali Nasirian is excellent, as the enigmatic Captain Nemat, swinging between bouts of paternal friendship, shrewd manipulation and unforgiving justice. His performance never reveals quite where he's going - is he deceiving his people, or deluding himself? Either reading is completely credible. The rest of the cast are almost dull by comparison, but perfectly adequate to keep the plot paddling along.

The film features almost no explicit violence, but war saturates the canvas. The children ask their teacher, "Who is the enemy?" Classes are conducted, using sticks of chalk moulded in bullet casings. Iron Island is not as controversial as Makmalbaf's Silence Between Two Thoughts, but it is definitely political.

Does Nemat represent a benevolent dictator, only helping the people because they exist as his slave labour force, tunnelling into the vitals of the ship, searching for the last traces of crude oil, sucking the marrow from its bones for his own gain? Or is he truly concerned for their well being? Judgement is held off and even the end holds no concrete answers, leaving the viewer to make their own interpretation.

Between the future of the squatters' community on board, a story of arranged marriage and forbidden romance and a small child catching fish in the hold, the film makes for beautiful and compelling viewing. The world Rasoulof has created is endlessly fascinating.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2005
Share this with others on...
A society of people live on a derelict oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. Are they being misled?
Amazon link

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof

Writer: Mohammad Rasoulof

Starring: Ali Nasirian, Hossein Farzi-Zadeh, Neda Pakdaman

Year: 2005

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Iran


EIFF 2005

Search database: