I’m still a bit in a daze after watching Houman Seyyedi’s Jang-Jahani Sevom aka World War III. Mainly because it excelled at subverting the expectation game most audiences play. The English title “World War III” is unmistakably eye-catching, with its eager instinct for a movie delving into a fictional future war, a sci-fi parable to be exact. But as you navigate through the World War III synopsis, you as the viewer are led to believe that you would see a journeyman working on the production of a World War II movie while also protecting to her secret lover. That should pique his interest, especially if his interests align with mine with regard to filmmaking that deals with meta-narrative or Russian doll storytelling methodologies.
I’m inclined to believe that director Houssan Seyyedi toyed with our expectation of seeing a meta-movie, because “World War III” is definitely not just about that. World War III follows Shakib, a farm laborer who lost his wife and son in an earthquake a few years ago and is still wracked with grief. In the years that follow, he strikes up a relationship with Ladan, a deaf and dumb sex worker. He works and sweats on a construction site when one day he is forced to act as one of the prisoners of a concentration camp. He finally realizes that he is working on the production of a World War II movie (a poorly made and inaccurate movie, which the movie is quick to point out).
Things start to look up when the movie’s producer takes notice of him after Shakib saves him from an accident. The producer wants him to help out on the production temporarily, which slowly crystallizes into close permanence when the director casts him in the role of Adolf Hitler (after a hilarious sequence in which the former actor suffers a heart attack while on the job). character, walking towards the caged prisoners, the prisoners looking at him and wondering if this is part of the act).
However, when the news starts to get relatively better for Shakib, her lover Ladan asks her pimp for shelter, so Shakib hides her under the foundation of the “Red House”, where she sleeps at night. He cannot escape the wrath of Ladan’s pimp, after being roughed up and beaten and threatened to pay $150 million in compensation. Shakib manages to get $20 million from the movie producer, but tarnishes the goodwill he had amassed in the process. As he returns, tragedy strikes when he sees the film crew blow up the red house as part of a sequence. The inferno of fire in the house was also the burning embers of Shakib’s last traces of happiness, and what happens next is a significant unraveling of his character.
The expectation of a meta-narrative about the film production or film making of World War II film is judiciously fulfilled with this film. There are innuendos, jokes, and even an appearance of black comedy, most notably depicted by Shakib being tested on screen for Adolf Hitler looking sheepish, unable to discern what’s going on, but choosing to go with the flow nonetheless. We see a sequence where the director tries to help Shakib understand Hitler’s “mentality” so that the scene is effective. We hear whispers among the crew that the film is inaccurate and that the director doesn’t know what he’s doing.
These touches are fascinating flourishes to set up this world of big budgets, fantasy and exploitation masquerading as artistic integrity. The conflicts Shakib faces are real-world issues that weave their way through this constructed reality of World War II, which erupts completely when tragedy strikes. Seyyedi and writers Arian Vazirdaftari and Azad Jafarian are also interested in the hierarchical mini-scuffles between the workers. Shakib becomes involved in a subtle struggle for dominance between himself and production assistant Hassan, who is already at odds with Shakib over Shakib taking the job intended for Hassan’s cousin.
As time passes and Shakib becomes part of the team, he feels “on top of the world”, able to overcome Hassan’s superiority, until the conflicts and later the anger and general attitude of the film crew by downplaying the accident they make him realize how the world would never allow him to progress. When asked, “Where was the body?” Shakib shouts: “She had a name.” He becomes a battle of fighting for his and Ladan’s rights and to preserve his humanity, even when circumstances try to make him question Ladan’s veracity and character. Temptation and people at higher levels who threaten to seize “the opportunity of a lifetime” fail when Shakib boldly proclaims that he has nothing to lose, only to have a reality check crash down on him when contractual obligations come into play. scene. It’s not even me considering what happens at the end, which may seem like a sudden change, but it also completely tracks Shakib’s character reaching the absolute breaking point of him.
“World War III” as a movie wouldn’t be remotely compelling if it weren’t for Mohsen Tanabadeh’s multi-dimensional and fantastical performance as Shakib. Eagle-eyed fans would recognize Tanabadeh in Asgar Farhadi’s “A Hero” as Bahram, one of the main “antagonists,” but here Tanabadeh is essentially a one-man show. From the beginning of the film, where Tanabadeh’s Shakib interacts with Ladan in ASL, to the final frame, where he walks back in his Hitler garb to the lunch table, he is riveting in the film. There is a hidden vulnerability and sadness in his eyes that slowly bubbles up and completely overflows when tragedy strikes. Perhaps it’s symbolic that Shakib is cast as Hitler or that the director’s instructions become too embedded in Shakib’s psyche because when his character reaches his breaking point, the choice he makes is hauntingly terrifying. And Tanabadeh sells it outright.
The conviction in his performance is only matched by the sound design, which manages to enhance the chaos of the set or the abject terror of the prisoners within the narrative of the film. The film, however, loosens up a bit during the second act, when it seems that the story goes deeper into the adventure and romance aspect of Shakib and Ladan. It finally straightened its course and returned to its convincing structure when it hit the hour mark and tragedy struck Shakib’s life.
“World War III” works as the story of the rise of an anarchist in a small fascist regime. Film production evokes the feeling of a failed totalitarian regime, where producers and directors sit on top of their pedestals and choose which of their desired “subordinates” they want to promote, with the caveat that they may push them down the line. drop. of a hat if it suits your narrative. This is not even considering extenuating circumstances that do not affect the persons in charge beyond a minuscule amount. But when the film ends, we see or hear the fall of this regime, in an implicit and horrible way. In an era of cinema where even ambiguous endings have become predictable, the choice to at least let the audience know the finality of the story is an appreciable and impactful move.