Review: "World War III" by Houman Seyedi

The Iranian film within film about power abuse

There seems to be no way out of the cul-de-sac in which Shakib, the protagonist of the new feature film by Iranian filmmaker and actor Houman Seyedi, has sunk. Seyedi started his film career behind and in front of the camera in the early 2000s. 

A man already deeply scarred by a double trauma (the death of his family in an earthquake years before) and by a recent existence fraught with uncertainty, complicated by a difficult love affair with the deaf-mute Ladan, and a work life marked by sporadic employment, Shakib is faced with an unexpected offer that could change and improve his situation. But becoming an actor on the set of a film about Hitler and concentration camps, and thus about the manifestation and abuse of power, playing the role of the dictator, can turn from opportunity to trap, ending up crushed by the dynamics of an authoritarianism that continues to reproduce itself over time

Selected in the Flash section of the 32nd FESCAAAL, World War III (Best Film and Actor, Mohsen Tanabandeh, in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival 2022) is situated in a dual temporal placement: the present-day in an Iran far from Tehran, in rural areas inhabited by poverty, oppression, vengeance, and tragedies that one would like to bury; and that of the Second World War, which reappears through the story that a film crew is shooting. We are thus in the territory of cinema within cinema, in the interweaving of life outside the set and that which the characters stage by immersing themselves in their fictional roles. A film, and a film within a film. Where some sets can also become Shakib’s temporary home, in the absence of alternatives. And a place of death for his beloved when the separation between reality and fiction disappears. 

In order to delve into the labyrinths of pain and persecution, and of the extreme final act of rebellion committed by Shakib, Seyedi chooses a tone that adheres to a classic cinematic vision within which to unravel a narrative where realism, social tensions, black comedy, and grotesque intersect

Giuseppe Gariazzo

Film critic

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22 Jan 2024