The temperature is blazing. The conditions are rancid. Injury---even death---is likely. Yet the laborers featured in Bong-nam Park's wrenching documentary continue to toil in the ship-breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh, where many out-of-commission vessels are sent for dismantling. It's clear these men and boys have little choice in their line of work: Most are illiterate country-to-city transplants who slave away for a meager salary ($2 a day) that is typically sent home to their families. Any remaining cash goes toward infrequent meals---rice and potatoes are the staple diet---or secondhand clothing---to people who frequently work barefoot, even flip-flops are a luxury---that is sure to be tattered and caked with mud before long.
Park could have easily turned this into a full-on pity party, but he almost entirely avoids that trap. An intrusive, fortunately barely utilized score is the only major misstep, begging crocodile tears instead of clear-eyed compassion. Otherwise, the filmmaking is patient and participatory, getting down in the dirt with the workers (in one case the lens is even soaked by a spray of sludge) and allowing several touchingly distinct personalities to emerge. The heart of Iron Crows is 21-year-old ship-breaker Belal, whom Park captures during the most harrowing scene---he's nearly crushed by falling debris---and then follows home to the country for the unbearably moving climax: a family reunion as rife with joyousness as it is with heartbreak.
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