Contemporary World Cinema | 2016 | 105 minutes
Stranger Says: A cemetery located in the middle of a desert island and under the shadow cast by a rusted shipwreck, an exiled political prisoner who made the wreck his home (and wrote all over its walls) found within it dead from apparent suicide (or was it murder?), an earthquake that hits every time a fresh body is buried in the cemetery (is it ghosts or something more mythical?), and the detective who investigates it all with help from a sound engineer and a geologist (all of whom end up disappearing under unknown circumstances) make up the plot of Mani Haghighi’s A Dragon Arrives! The Iranian film is one part cleverly done mockumentary (it’s presented as a true story and interspersed with interviews that include Haghighi as himself), one part supernatural mystery dosed in light political intrigue, and the result is just as noteworthy for its truly epic landscape shots as it is for the compelling manner in which the story unfolds. (LEILANI POLK)
SIFF Says:It’s 1965, and a flame-orange Chevy Impala pulls up to a shipwreck on the island of Qeshm in the Strait of Hormuz. A police inspector, a sound engineer, and a geologist get out; they’ve come to investigate the suspicious death of a banished political prisoner. Inside the wreck, the walls are covered in diary entries, literary quotations, and strange symbols. Fifty years later, all this evidence, plus subsequent recordings by the intelligence services―ones that suggest that the inspector and his colleagues were arrested―is found in a chest passed down to the film’s director, Mani Haghighi. This twisty tale of spies and counterspies winds its way through multiple genres―noir, mockumentary, mystery, ghost story―and is rife with surrealist black humor and references to Iranian popular cinema of the ’60s and ’70s. It may be an allegory for the country’s political present and recent past, or it may be a supernatural tale of graveyard earthquakes and dragons that make men speak in foreign tongues. Either way, it’s a spectacular exercise in flash and panache, not to be missed.