Poetry in Motion: A Dragon Arrives!
Writer-director Mani Haghighi’s experimentally ambitious mystery thriller revolves around the suspicious suicide of exiled political prisoner Samei after the assassination of then Prime Minister Hassan Ali Mansur in 1965. Starring newcomer Amir Jadidi as the sophisticated and covert detective Babak Hafizi – working for the Shah of Iran’s secret police force – the movie follows the agent as he wanders inside a mirage-like abandoned shipwreck in a haunted cemetery on Qeshm Island, surrounded by elegant and enigmatic Farsi on the walls depicting dreams, diary entries, poems, stories and strange symbols.
The feature opens with Babak being interrogated by his senior and moves from flashbacks to present-day footage, Haghighi’s tonal shifts turning the film into a documentary of sorts. Interviews with the director and individuals cast some light on the incident of sound engineer Keyvan Haddad (Ehsan Goudarzi), who disappeared while working on 1965 feature The Brick and the Mirror by New Wave auteur Ebrahim Golestan (coincidentally Haghighi’s own grandfather). Though the latter’s eclectic work combines several genres – instilling a sense of ambition rarely seen in filmmaking – the picture’s change in forms is challenging, in particular for audiences unfamiliar with Iran’s past. Taking viewers on a journey of reconstructions, the tale-within-a-tale detailing is a little bewildering. Alongside this, the unsolved death of Samei and the missing daughter of local ophthalmologist and shark hunter Almas convolutes the piece, resulting in a loss of focus. Babak, Keyvan and a geologist remain in the desert to continue investigating, while attempting to discover the theory behind a local superstition which dictates that when a body is buried, an earthquake occurs.
The cryptic nature of A Dragon Arrives! can be frustrating to decipher, but the Iranian traditions and folklore in which Haghighi’s work is steeped – brought to vibrant life by cinematographer Houman Behmanesh – provide some visual satisfaction to this otherwise torpid piece.
A Dragon Arrives! is screening as part of Poetry in Motion at the Barbican on 3rd April 2019. For further information or to book tickets visit the event’s website here.
Watch the trailer for A Dragon Arrives! here: