Thursday, December 06, 2018

Anchorage ’18: The Last Fiction

It is deeply embedded in Iranian culture and the national character, but its roots go back to early Zoroastrian traditions, rather than Islam. Yet, you can find many archetypal elements throughout Ferdowsi’s epic Shahnmeh (a.k.a. The Book of Kings) that have western analogs. Heroes must rise to depose a tyrant in league with evil supernatural forces in Ashkan Rahgozar’s The Last Fiction (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Anchorage International Film Festival.

King Jamshid was once a just monarch, who enjoyed divine favor, but he has been blinded by ambition and a lust for conquest. He has been absent for years on an ill-conceived campaign (much like Richard the Lionheart), leaving the nation in the hands of the ruthless Zahhak, who is in league with the demonic Ahriman. Suspicions were already running high, due to the many men who entered into the castle on the pretext of construction work, only to disappear without a trace. However, Zahhak irrevocably loses the confidence of the people when he orders the death of every infant, to prevent the prophecy of his downfall from coming true. Right, does that sound familiar at all?

Afaridoun is the target of Zahhak’s wrath, but he escapes, thanks to his mother’s sacrifice and the heroism of Kaveh, the blacksmith. However, the angry orphan will need to mature considerably and train harder, before he can effectively lead the resistance.

Last Fiction is considered Iran’s first animated feature, which is a little surprising, considering the levels of accomplishment and recognition Persian cinema has reached. Regardless, it is pretty impressive, especially as the pioneering trailblazer. The character designs are quite striking and the world-building is richly detailed. There is a bit of herky-jerkiness here and there, but so what? In contrast, some of the stylized sequences relating episodes of legend and lore are truly elegant.

Rahgozar shrewdly adapted passages from the Shahnameh (considered the world’s longest epic poem) that best lend themselves to dramatic visuals. Frankly, anytime Iranian filmmakers depict the overthrow of an oppressive dictator, the world becomes a sunnier place and at least a dozen angels get their wings. It is also just a cool semi-fantastical story, with generous helpings of hack-and-slash action.

In addition to the swordplay, there is also a good deal of magic and intrigue, as well as a few nice Persian songs. There isn’t much romance though, since this is an Iranian film. Still, there is plenty to hold the interest of rowdy animation fans and refined patrons of Persian culture. Enthusiastically recommended, The Last Fiction screens this Saturday (12/8), as part of this year’s Anchorage International Film Festival.