Dragon Arrives!, A (2016)

Review #1,342

Director:  Mani Haghighi
Cast:   Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Homayoun Ghanizadeh
Plot:  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.

Genre:  Adventure / Mystery 
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin)
Runtime:  105min
Rating:  PG13 for some sexual references
International Sales:  The Match Factory

You haven’t quite seen how Iranian cinema can be mutated until you have seen A Dragon Arrives!.  In competition for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, the film is unclassifiable and difficult to explain.  It is one of those head-scratchers that is puzzling not just in its content, but in its form and very existence.  So let me try to articulate what you can expect from the film, without revealing anything substantial. 

A Dragon Arrives! is a political mystery wrapped in some kind of meta-structure that privileges a fusion of genres and realities.  There’s so much going on that it is easy to be confused, not to mention that the film has no qualms in torturing you in that way.  The rewards are not exactly enlightening, but it is a stylish and one-of-a-kind journey worth taking. 

It starts off with an interrogation sequence, presumably the aftermath of a political assassination that allegedly sparked a suicide from a prisoner.  As the film unravels, director Mani Haghighi gives us a surreal flashback trip to a huge, rusty ship stuck in the middle of the desert.  The film also intercuts with documentary footage of Haghighi speaking about how his grandfather's film—The Brick and the Mirror (1965), a landmark Iranian work by Ebrahim Golestan—is linked to aforementioned events. 

The blend of fiction and reality, reenactments of the past, and the constant probing for truth and closure do echo such Iranian films as Kiarostami's Close-Up (1990), but A Dragon Arrives! plunges headfirst into unchartered territory with its playful, even subversive treatise on genre. 

In particular, Haghighi's picture is a rare Iranian film that references elements of the Western (the desert landscape is no less harsher or spectacular than Monument Valley), while doubling up as a pseudo-detective movie (a character wears a hat and suit like a hardboiled investigator in an American noir).  Perhaps most prominently, the central characters travel in a bright orange Chevrolet Impala. 

If all these aren’t symbolic of the film's conscious embracement of Westernized aesthetics, and a complete overturn of the social realist ideologies and raw aesthetics that have grounded what we have come to know as Iranian cinema, then its all-too-obvious contextual irony would have been lost.

Backed by thumping, energetic, almost heavy-metal-ish music, A Dragon Arrives! will leave you fascinated and perplexed in equal measure.  This is no doubt a sheer oddity of contemporary Iranian cinema.

Verdict:  There’s so much going on in this stylish fusion of genres and narrative styles that you will be left fascinated and perplexed in equal measure—what a sheer oddity of contemporary Iranian cinema.  


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daniel said…
U watched it in Berlin?
Eternality Tan said…
Nope, saw it on a screener from the distributor.
daniel said…
When was it? Is there any way I can watch this it looks awesome.
Eternality Tan said…
Saw it about a month ago. My students nearly wanted to programme it for the upcoming Perspectives Film Festival in Oct. Maybe another festival might pick it up?

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