A visually arresting allegory set in the Persian Gulf, Iron Island takes place almost entirely on a rusty oil tanker, which serves as a home for a marginalized group of coastal Arabs. “The rent is reasonable,” explains Captain Nemat (Nasirian), the despotic ruler of the ship. “And it comes with everything.” Indeed, there’s no excuse to leave: Factories, schools, television and cell phones are all part of life on the island, and Nemat controls the ship’s rationing, ruling strictly but—except when punishing a lovestruck young man (Farzi-Zadeh)—keeping an eye on his residents’ welfare. When a skeptical schoolteacher informs Nemat that the tanker is sinking, the captain is forced to decide the community’s fate: Could he, or should he, attempt to maintain order on land?
While tempered with ambivalence about Nemat’s authority—among other things, he’s shown taking children out of class to help with emergency oil sales—the film’s apparent nostalgia for prescribed living doesn’t entirely translate. (The press notes come with a lengthy analysis by critic and Iranian-film expert Godfrey Cheshire, who places Iron Island in a tradition of films about “symbolic communities.”) Even so, the imagery speaks a universal language, and cinematographer Reza Jalali’s stunningly bright and crisp compositions will serve as nourishment for anyone left parched by critical darling Abbas Kiarostami’s recent descent into minimalism. The movie may be bleak, but it isn’t dry. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)—Ben Kenigsberg