Iron Island (Jazireh ahani) a film by Mohammad Rasoulof

19 October 2022

Living amongst a tight-knit community aboard a ship as it sails the world’s seas might be a dream come true for some people. But that’s not quite the case for the residents living on a disused oil tanker anchored in waters off the the south coast of Iran, in Iron Island, trailer, the 2005 debut feature of Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof.

It may not be any world cruise, but the vessel isn’t exactly stationery either. It is slowly, oh so slowly, sinking. But for the moment this is the least of ship master Captain Nemat’s (Ali Nassirian) problems. The enterprising, some might say exploitive, captain is barely out of frame as he struts about the rusting hull being all things to all people.

One minute he’s greeting new residents, the next he’s fending off the vessel’s owner, who wants to sell the ship for scrap. But that’s probably because Nemat has the same idea. Nemat doesn’t ask rent payments from his tenants, instead they become his employees, and he deducts rent from the salary he pays them.

Everyone except children — whom Nemat provides a school for — and the infirm, are put to work. Work that entails gradually dismantling the crumbling hull of the vessel they call home. Biting the hand that feeds. Any fixtures and fittings that Nemat deems superfluous are cut away and taken ashore to be sold as scrap metal.

Captain Nemat is a compelling character, and one has to wonder what his true motives are. Is he really looking out for the interests of the down-trodden who have no choice but live on his leaky ship? Or is he a shrewd, calculating, business person who sees the ship’s residents as a captive workforce, who will follow him no matter what?

This is the question viewers are left with, when everyone must leave the vessel. While Nemat may not want to see members of his community end up truly homeless, he doesn’t want to lose faithful employees either. Nemat offers them an alternative, but is there any substance to it? Worse still though, does it even matter?


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