By Ryan Keating-Lambert

★★★☆☆

One of the stand-outs in Prague’s 6th Festival of Iranian Films this year has been the desert dwelling genre bender A Dragon Arrives! A film that pushes men to their boundaries through both psychological and supernatural forces. Part mockumentary, part art house. Confused? You’re supposed to be.

Related: Festival of Iranian Films 2017

‘Based on a true story’ – take note of those quotation marks there. This is a 1960s surreal desert tale of Babek Hafizi (Amir Jadidi), a detective for the Shah of Iran’s secret police is sent to an island to investigate the suicide of a convict in exile, inside his unusual desert shipwreck home. After burying the body in the local cemetery, the desert canyon shudders with a violent earthquake, and a series of mysterious and supernatural events take place.

Director Mani Haghighi (Modest Reception, Men at Work) approached this narrative in anything but a traditional way. On the exterior it appears to be a supernatural thriller with aspects of fantasy and noir, but after the thumping opening credit sequence becomes a mockumentary with Haghighi himself being interviewed about the strange story.

The performances are varied. Amir Jadidi comes alive in the interrogation scenes and exudes desperation, but tends to be a bit cardboard throughout the main adventures in the desert. Ehsan Goodarzi’s character as Keyvan the sound engineer was by far the most varied and deep. His bizarre sense of style and overall Wes Anderson quirk make him a pleasure to watch, especially when the plot starts to jump all over the place.

The sudden jolts from genre to genre in are anything but subtle, although they do have a certain charm and usually link back to earlier devices, so you do leave the cinema with a sense of it being somewhat well-rounded and accomplished. However, this kind of non traditional narrative will not be appreciated by everyone. The cinematography however, will be.

The film is littered with beautiful composition in a desert ablaze with yellows, oranges and reds. The thumping percussive soundtrack by Christophe Rezai pushes the narrative along like a steaming locomotive, or dragon in this case.

A Dragon Arrives! can be frustrating and confusing at times, but it’s nowhere near as abstract as one might expect from watching the trailer or reading the synopsis. It does make sense, even if it’s a strange sort of sense. It’s also quite political.  A great outing, but make sure you have your thinking cap on, don’t go see this one for a bit of light entertainment.

Photo: Camera Look

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