“No one is forcing you to ruin your life because of me.”
Winner of the Venice Horizons Award and the entry for Iran for International Feature, director Houman Seyyedi’s latest film, World War III, is a masterclass in every way possible. It starts out with a man, Shakib, who is a humble worker taking any odd job that he can find, like being a bricklayer or a porter. His wife and children died in an earthquake so he slowly builds a connection with a deaf girl, Ladan, who works at a brothel.
In a turn of luck, Shakib ends up getting a job at a movie set that’s being filmed near his town. He prepares breakfast for the crew and he protects the production sets at night. When the lead actor unexpectedly gets a heart attack, the director and producers scramble to find a new lead. Despite having no acting experience, Shakib is hired to play Hitler in a recreation of World War II. When Ladan tells Shakib that she’s afraid of her bosses and wants to live with him, his world turns upside down. Does he give up his opportunity to play a role in a movie or does he try to help Ladan to re-start her life?
Mohsen Tanabandeh is spectacular as Shakib. The transition in his mannerisms and behaviour from the start to the end is jaw-dropping. With a near perfect screenplay, Seyyedi has delicately created a film that starts slowly, almost comedy-like, and builds itself to a powerful last hour. The unimaginable escalation is almost apocalyptic, which flows into a shocking finale. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” While you can step in the same river twice, it’s no longer exactly the same as when you first stepped in it, and you’re not exactly the same, either. History does not repeat itself exactly, but many of the same patterns tend to happen again and again. The atrocities that happened in World War II weren’t exactly the same as World War I, though similar. It’s a scary thought that if a man is pushed to the brink, World War III is inevitable.