Connect with us


A Dragon Arrives! | 2016 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Be a Dragon: Haghighi’s Enticing Hodgepodge Defies Categorization

Mani Haghighi A Dragon Arrives PosterDirector Mani Haghighi stakes a claim as one of the most innovative new voices out of Iran with his standout fifth feature, A Dragon Arrives!. Systematically defying easy categorization, the slippery political allegory can just as easily be referenced as noir, horror, mystery and docu-hybrid, utilizing a myriad of hat tricks as its increasingly strange and sometimes hopelessly complicated narrative unspools. Though it may be too baffling to attract casual viewers, those relishing a challenge should delight in this mystifying feature which promises to yield multiple interpretations through extensive viewing. Seemingly entrenched in the past, it is perhaps more of an allegory on the present, a puzzling ghost story spectacularly coated (or coded) in fantastical elements.

In 1964 Iran, cultivated detective Babak Hafizi finds he has been abducted by his own agency, waking up to a menacing interrogation from his boss, Major Jahangiri (Kamran Safamanesh), who wants to know what the hell happened during his assignment on the mysterious island of Qeshm following the dubious suicide of a political prisoner (it seems both Babak and Jahangiri are also counterspies within their own agency). We flashback through Babak’s narrative as he cruises through the desert of Qeshm in an orange Chevy Impala, where a local detective, Charaki (Ali Bagheri) takes him to the scene of the possible crime, a large, dilapidated ship in the middle of the desert, which had served as a makeshift home for the dead prisoner. The corpse is then buried in an ancient, abandoned cemetery, a place the locals steer clear of because a specifically localized earthquake transpires every time someone is buried there. To find answers for this phenomenon, Babak makes an inquiry with an ex member of his spy agency, beautiful theater actress Shahrzad (Kiana Tajammol), who introduces him to a sound engineer, Keyvan (Ehsan Goudarzi), who brings along a geologist friend, Benham (Homayoun Ghanizadeh) to test the site with earthquake equipment.

Then, director Mani Haghighi appears on screen to announce he’s investigating the famous disappearance of the sound engineer, Keyvan, who worked on his father Ebrahim Golestan’s 1964 film The Brick and the Mirror. Several subjects are interviewed to shed light on this mystery, which originated when Haghighi discovered a mysterious box in his father’s belongings—a box which becomes prominent to the peculiar events of 1964 in Qeshm.

Christophe Rezai’s soundtrack highlights the film’s significant supernatural component, and skirts around the promise of ghosts, disappearances, murders, and the presence of a strange creature. The arid desert landscape of Qeshm proves to be consistently exotic, particularly with its crumbling shipwreck (an item which has its own particular haunted history) looming out like the skeleton of some decomposing beast.

Haghighi creates a rich, fictional history to complement this increasingly arduous narrative, which often promises to spin completely out of control. Though his previous efforts have proved to be more obvious political allegories (2006’s Men at Work; 2012’s Modest Reception), A Dragon Arrives! is a much more enhanced animal.

Having written Asghar Farhadi’s 2006 title Fireworks Wednesday (the two also collaborated on Haghighi’s 2008 film Canaan), he promises to be the next international breakout from Iran, though clearly with more grandiose flourishes. Perplexing but endlessly fascinating, A Dragon Arrives! is a superb cinematic accomplishment.

Reviewed on February 19 at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival – Competition. 105 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top