A heartwarming documentary about an American basketball player learning that Iranians are people too – through sport! How one American travels to Iran and turns a failing team of young Iranians into champions! How a Western man is surprised to learn that not all Muslim women are silent and downtrodden!
It’s a concept to induce a mild stroke. Of course that’s before you get to the small irritating mistakes. It’s set in Shiraz, yet inexplicably every shot seems to be of Tehran; it describes Ashura as a festival of mourning for “the prophet’s grandson Ali” – Ashura is not about Ali, who wasn’t the prophet’s grandson, but apart from that it’s perfectly correct. And it’s hard to understand how almost every single match manages to come down to a crucial shot in the last minute of the game. The ability of this team to create dramatic tension is truly uncanny.
There’s something in it though. The characters – particularly the three immensely charismatic young women who befriend the American visitor – are engaging, and you end up backing them despite yourself. And the soundtrack of Iranian rap and hip-hop threads together African-American and Iranian pop cultures beautifully. There’s a lot of potential for the film to be incredibly Orientalist, but it doesn’t fall into those traps anything like as often as you’d expect. Politics is drawn into the film in the right places, without being overwhelming. And above all it’s extremely funny.
Yes, The Iran Job is not a film that pulls its painful cringes. But that’s OK, because painful cringes is what the film is all about. In a lot of ways it’s patronising, simplified and clichéd. But it works extremely well as a picture of cultural misunderstandings and the inevitable disorientation of finding yourself in a new country and a completely different world. It captures the humour of languages and mindsets colliding, and gets its laughs from both sides. If you know more than a little about Iran there will be moments of frustration. But the odds are you’ll get sucked in anyway, and leave the cinema asking each other “Christmas tree?” “raisin?” and giggling.