SIFF Double Feature – A Dragon Arrives! and Bad Black
A Dragon Arrives!: I am 99% sure this film is loaded with subtext, but since I know nothing about Iran in the 1960s, I have no idea what it is. But there’s a ton of text to deal with, so I will do just that. Written and directed by Mani Haghighi, A Dragon Arrives! starts in Iran in 1965 and weaves it’s way back and forth through time with reenactments, interviews, sound recordings, and the idea that it is based on a real event. (I think any true or false here comes from what lies in the story, not anything that may have actually happened.) Secret police inspector Babak Hafizi (Amir Jadidi) is sent to the island of Qeshm to investigate the suicide of an exiled prisoner. He is greeted by a fellow officer who takes Hafizi to see the body in the abandoned shipwreck where the prisoner lived. Hafizi thinks foul play is afoot and decides to stay and investigate the incident. He is warned that if they bury the body in the nearby cemetery, an earthquake will occur. And it does. Wanting to solve the murder and learn what is causing the earthquakes, Hafizi leaves the island and returns with geologist Behnam Shokoohi (Homayoun Ghanizadeh) and sound engineer Keyvan Haddad (Ehsan Goodarzi). The story of what happens to them on the island and after is the central mystery of the film.
I can’t tell you I understood exactly what was happening at all times in this film (the subtext problem), but I can tell you I don’t really care. From the very beginning when Hafizi drives up in his orange Chevy Impala, this movie is a treat for the senses. I absorbed enough of the plot to maintain interest, but a lot of the real delights of this movie are visual and aural. (I don’t want you to get the idea that this movie is impenetrable, because it’s not. It does reward patience though.) Hafizi is a modern man in an ancient world, and the film uses this juxtaposition to emphasize much of the beauty of its visuals. The sound design on this film is also outstanding; especially the soundtrack. It’s a fantastical fever dream of a film. I usually prefer a more straightforward narrative because a lot of avant-garde films just seem sloppy to me, but this is an intriguing and lovely experience.
A Dragon Arrives! plays at Lincoln Square May 20th and SIFF Cinema Uptown May 22nd and June 3rd.
Final Grade: A-
Bad Black: I am not entirely sure how to explain this movie to you, but I’m going to do my best. Coming out of Uganda’s low/no-budget film studio Wakaliwood, director Nabwana I.G.G. crafts a tale featuring revenge, kung fu, commandos, thievery, child neglect, bad stunts, great stunts, really bad special effects, really, really bad special effects, tons of slapping, car chases, a kid named Wesley Snipes, an American doctor, and what could be considered an excessive amount of gunplay. (Not by me though.) The film also contains what might be the worst narration of all time, or maybe the best. I’m not sure I will ever know.
There are two main stories at play here. The first and most important is that of Bad Black (Nalwanga Gloria), a criminal gang leader who escapes a neglectful home as a child only to fall prey to street thieves. She rises through the gang ranks and eventually becomes boss, targeting the rich men who tormented her as a child. American Doctor Ssali (Alan Hofmanis) has come to the Ugandan capital, Kamapala, to nobly treat the poor. Bad Black steals his stuff, and he must train as a commando to get it back. (It goes without saying that Bad Black hates commandos.) His teacher, Wesley Snipes, is the grumpiest kid in Uganda, but he kicks ass so who cares.
This is a lot of fun, made more so by the narrator, who, like your annoying drunk friend, details everything that is going on, what everyone is thinking, and then adds his own feelings about the proceedings. Oddly enough, the only thing I didn’t like was all the slapping. Most of the violence is cartoonish, but the slapping felt different, especially when directed at Bad Black as a child. That section of the movie is pretty harrowing, and – while not as fun as the rest of the movie – added some psychological weight to her motivations. If you like over-the-top action and don’t mind a minuscule budget, there is a lot here to enjoy. Highly recommended for those who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary and can set aside their preconceptions of how a story should be told.
Bad Black plays at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian on May 20th and 22nd and the Majestic Bay on May 25th.
Final Grade: B+