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World War III

Clunky Iranian dramedy about filmmaking, a very strange Hitler and a deaf woman fails to enrapture and captivate viewers, instead slipping into dippiness - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Shakib (Mohsen Tanabandeh) is a quiet and shy construction worker who one day jumps on the back of a pickup truck in order to join a film set. Only 10 people are allowed to hop on board of the vehicle. The lucky chosen ones about to enter the magical world of cinema. Well, not quite. The movie being filmed is a bizarre fictionalisation of the German gas chambers with a very awkward Hitler watching the action firsthand and from a very short distance. The Fuehrer observes through a narrow gas window as the males suffocate in the gas chambers. The production values of the unnamed film within this film are very poor.

Shakib received a very special and unexpected invitation. He’s cast to play Hitler. The problem is that he has never acted. In fact, he has never heard of the infamous German despot. These are the best moments of the film, when Iranian filmmaker Houman Seyedi manages to illicit some laughter from us viewers. Hitler’s hair and moustache are ridiculous, but it is Shakib’s inability to act that genuinely stands out. His performance is so stilted that he can barely do a Nazi salute. One of the extras ask: “is this supposed to be a comedy”? These are the best moment of this 107-minute film (roughly the first third of the story).

Parallel to his film work, Shakib has a strange relationship with a mute female called Ladan. It is never entirely clear whether their connection is amicable, romantic or sexual (which is probably more to do with the country’s strict censorship than directorial choices). He can communicate with her because he learnt sign language from his parents. One day, she appears in the film set begging Shakib to hide her for a few days. She’s fleeing some sort of criminal called Farshid, who eventually tracks her down and blackmails Shakib. Our hapless protagonist is left to find 100 million rials (the local currency) in just 24 hours. So he blackmails the film company because he knows that they cannot afford to let him go. This is when the plot becomes so convoluted that it is barely intelligible. What was initially a quaint little comedy descends into a loud and violent thriller and drama, with abundant punching, verbal threats and a major explosion that will change the course of the film, sending Shakib and the film crew intto an incontrollable frenzy.

Mark Twain’s famous quote “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes”, which opens the movie, combined with the hardly subtle film title, suggest that something horrific is about to happen,. akin to the Holocaust. This is a pretentious premise, in a movie that thinks very highly of itself and yet achieves very little. Shakib’s bizarre predicament does not equate to world war. In the final sequence, the filmmaker attempt to merge fiction and cinema into one single creature. This could have been a very powerful or at least interesting finale had the script been a little come coherent. Instead it’s just banal. A highly tangled blend of drama, thriller and comedy. It will neither shock you nor make you laugh.

World War III just showed at the Best of Fest section of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Not everyone seems to have the same opinion of the film as I. The film won the Best Film and Best Actor prizes of the prestigious Horizons programme of the Venice Film Festival. Plus, Iran nominated it as the country’s entry for the Oscar.

By Houman Seyedi - 15-11-2022

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