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A Dragon Arrives! (2016)

Ejdeha Vared Mishavad! (original title)
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 ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Amir Jadidi ...
Babak Hafizi, detective
Ehsan Goodarzi ...
Keyvan Haddad, sound engineer
Amir Homayoun Ghanizadeh ...
Behnam Shokoohi, geologist
Nader Fallah ...
Almas
Ali Bagheri ...
Javad Charaki
Kiana Tajammol ...
Shahrzad Besharat, young
Kamran Safamanesh ...
Saeed Jahangiri
Javad Ansari ...
Darshan
Shahin Karimi ...
Shahrzad Besharat, old
Laila Arjumand ...
Valleh
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Manouchehr Anvar ...
Ravi Malakut
Touraj Daryaee ...
Himself
Lili Golestan ...
Herself
...
Himself
Saeed Hajjarian ...
Himself
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Storyline

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.

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2016 (Iran)  »

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A Dragon Arrives!  »

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2.35 : 1
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User Reviews

 
Solving a mystery rife with political intrigue, legend, and magic
25 February 2017 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Dragons are from legends, from myths, from superstition, and in Mani Haghighi's new film the title sets the stage for the story we will try to follow as challenged art-film enthusiasts. The plot—a concoction of genres—requires utter attention to the dialogue, which comes to us in speedy subtitles that flash unfamiliar names like Babak Hafizi, Behnam Shokouhi, Keyvan Haddad, Saeed Jahangiri, and Shahrzad Besharat. The names flash as either first or last names depending on the scene, so it's difficult to remember who is who. The plot unravels via the dialogue, some of it reportage in a fake documentary style, with the director Haghighi being interviewed about how he discovered the story and made the movie. The film's opening credits poke fun at the currently popular trend of "Based on a true story." Those who thrive on mind-bender plots like Inception will be thrilled to take on this movie.

Qualities in Dragon mirror qualities in other Iranian films of a mythical character, White Meadows (Rasoulof 2009) coming to mind, though in Dragon the contemporary world integrates thoroughly with the primitive, superstitious, cult-following villagers on the island of Qeshm, where political exiles are sent. The three protagonists from Tehran—Babak, Keyvan, and Behnam—who investigate the island's haunted cemetery prone to geologically impossible earthquakes, dress in Western garb in contrast to the turbaned, scarfed, robed villagers. Charaki, the island's government agent originally from Tehran, dresses like Babak in a tie and Homburg hat. But he's lived so long among the villagers that he keeps their secrets from the regime. Suits and Homburgs on the island's barren landscape of tawny, cavernous mountains clash with the primitive environment, but they also symbolize the vast chasm between the modern world and the island's tribal rituals, superstition, and magic.

The movie's predominant plot conundrum needles the mind to work out its puzzle, which is more difficult for non-Iranian audiences because of nods to cultural traditions and the Farsi language translated in fleeting subtitles. In fact, the plot is simple, but it's ingeniously woven into politics, hallucinations, flashbacks and flash forwards, changing genres, and an overarching atmosphere of a fantasy quest. And that legend or fairy tale quality—mixed with eerie horror motifs and evil characters (Charaki and Almas)—creates suspense. The haunted cemetery in the nowhere land of ghostly mountains, dominated by a fantastical shipwreck littered with vestiges of former dwellers, transports us to the imaginary realm where bizarre phenomena occur.

The modern world intrudes to solve a crime: a young political prisoner (Samei) hanging from the rafters of the shipwreck only days before his release. Charaki tells Babak, sent by the intelligence agency to investigate, that it was a suicide, but Babak can see from the neck wounds that it was a murder. He tells Charaki he'll spend the night in the shipwreck to read the dead prisoner's books and scrawled gibberish on the walls. He also insists that the body be buried in the cemetery just outside the ship, despite Charaki's warning that any body buried there causes an earthquake. The place is considered haunted and villagers won't go near it. No one has been buried there for one hundred years. Babak asserts he isn't afraid and orders the body to buried. As the night descends over the deserted eerie shipwreck, Babak settles on his cot to read and moments later an earthquake shatters the walls above his head.

Babak returns to Tehran to enlist the help of two experts—geologist Benham and sound engineer Keyvan—to solve the earthquake mystery. These two specialists first want assurance that Babak is not working for the intelligence agency. Here, with the subtitles telling the whole story in a shifting, patchwork way, audiences may lose the thread of who Babak, and his boss Saeed Jahanjiri, really are, for on the surface they appear as agents of the secret police. But dialogue and documentary reportage tell us they are actually members of a counterintelligence group known as Hozvaresh, led by Jahanjiri.

The plot further entangles itself through its documentary genre. The film's director, Mani Haghighi, tells his interviewer how he first found out about the cemetery story through the contents of a metal box that showed up in his grandfather's closet. We then watch black-and- white footage from his grandfather Ebrahim Golestan's movie, Brick and the Mirror, which shows Keyvan working as sound engineer. Haghighi tells us that Keyvan disappeared during the shoot in 1964. It is the myriad plot detours like this—executed through shifting voices under interrogation, documentary interviews, live action, and mystery tapes turning up—that the simplicity of the plot becomes obscured. At the same time, it is all these clever accouterments and genre layering that make the movie compelling.

No dragon ever arrives—the one supposedly living under the cemetery and causing the quakes. But a camel appears twice and symbolizes Babak's hallucinogenic clairvoyance related to the disappearance of the murdered prisoner's lover, Halimeh. In both cases, Babak's encounter with the vision of a camel (who represents Halimeh's mother) leads to the rescue of Halimeh's infant daughter Valileh, who then appears twenty years later in the documentary part of the movie, adding a fresh piece of evidence to the story—the last puzzle piece. At the end of the movie, when music clashes and clangs loudly like the primitive village colliding with modern Tehran, we hear the baying of a camel mixed in. His voice was part of bringing truth to the fore.

The Dragon's plot can only be understood through words, but the film's visual aura, its fantastical, spooky setting and atmosphere keep us mesmerized: the Arabian Nights interior of the shipwreck—lit by a thousand candles—the crackling campfires in the cemetery at night, the tribal rituals with a skinned goat, the ghost-story music permeated with evil, and the supernatural noises and occurrences that mix with hallucinogenic experiences. Although films should be understood through their visual content, and Dragon cannot be understood without its language, the movie is a grand visual work of masterly filmmaking.


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