The chief pleasure of Iron Island is recognition: its self-contained society of Arab Iranians occupying an abandoned oil tanker is a near-endless well of contemporary Middle Eastern parallels. Most centrally, the Captain, who regulates living arrangements and the (oil-based) economy, and fights to retain the community’s cohesion and his unchallenged authority (for him, synonymous) even after it becomes clear that the ship is sinking.
Iron Island’s allegory is so potent as to be overwhelming, and Rasoulof errs in not drawing his characters out of their microcosmic functions. Nasirian, duty-bowed and fiercely autocratic, is the only one allowed a performance; the female cast is entirely undifferentiated. But Rasoulof and cinematographer Reza Jalai will occasionally catch an arresting composition of the tanker’s absoluteness, or an unexpected trick of the natural light — brief untranslatables that make watching Iron Island more than a moderately enjoyable prerequisite to talking about it.