Global Film Initiative // 2007 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 6th, 2011
A look at life on the "other side" of the enemy line...
In the world of war, where there are only heroes and villains, good guys and bad guys; we never want to see the enemy as "human." Instead, they are almost always depicted as animalistic, baser and beyond anything remotely resembling a recognizable emotional dimension. While it may appear simplistic (or in many cases, horribly racist), it's a good way of excusing killing. After all, if you are simply destroying a mindless drone drunk on the evil party politics line, there's no real individual guilt involved. While arguments over whether or not there can ever be a "just" armed conflict continue, movies like Iran's Ah Seh (translation: Those Three) shed light on what it's like to be part of one nation named "Empire of Evil." Indeed, U.S. military minds and Western leaders would love to portray the soldiers in this cinematic situation as nothing short of deserters and craven cowards. But there is more to the story than this, and thankfully, this compelling drama does a good job of fleshing out the facts.
The story here is simple. A group of Iranian grunts have just begun their two-year service to the State, almost all of them present under the pretense of forced subscription. Many don't want to be part of the common soldiery and devise ways around the disciple and dead-end drilling. In the Northern part of the country, snow-bound and under stress, a few decide to go AWOL. They include Yousef (Yousef Yazdani), the bookwormish Dariush (Dariush Ghazbani) and troublemaker Essi (Esmail Movahedian). Walking away into the frozen and barren wasteland, they believe they can survive long enough to return to civilization. They soon learn, however, that they are deep in unforgiving territory. As they run across smugglers and one particularly distraught woman, their chances seem to diminish. Even as they begin to doubt their plan, they realize that almost anything beats being in the Army -- including the possibility of freezing to death in the middle of an icy nowhere.
Two years in the making and bleak in both its look and overall message, Those Three represents one of those rare cultural slices of life that few outside of the art house circuit get to see. It's a compelling look at one aspect of a foreign society and sets up its universal subtexts with strong, solid statements. Our three main leads (though we come to know many in this ragtag company) provide a cross-section of the stereotypes we expect from this kind of movie -- the bespeckled smart-ass; the serious, silent type; the bumbling oaf -- and yet writer/director Naghi Nemati avoids turning them into symbols. Instead, we get to see real human beings, flaws and all, making mistakes and paying for them, often with grave consequence. For the first half of the film, we watch as a somewhat sadistic drill sergeant puts these novices through their paces, meting out authority with a combination of consideration and cruelty. We get the reasons why Essi and Dariush want to leave. Convincing Yousef is another matter all together, and it's this fatal miscalculation that gives Those Three its last-act gravitas.
So do the scenes in which our traitors run into a man smuggling children, a lost and lonely woman, and a isolated village filled with reflections of the life they left behind. In between, we see snippets of dimension that turn the players from parts to personalities. As the situation grows more desperate, we also recognize a certain frailty in their often blustery facade. These are not some faceless jihadist on a terrorist mission to destroy the wicked West. Instead, these are men with their own issues/fears/concerns that just so happen to support, ideologically, a position we despise. That doesn't make them any less personable. It just makes their politics hard to accept. Luckily, there is little to no preaching involved here. The Global Lens Collection even avoids any particular position, offering a basic DVD with a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image, Dolby Digital stereo mix, and an explanatory discussion guide highlighting many of the themes present. While it would be nice to hear Nemati defend his work, the final result definitely speaks for itself.
Those Three may not change your perception of the men in the Middle East, but it does say something about the stresses of playing soldier on either side of the dispute.
Not Guilty. A quiet little gem.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Global Film Initiative
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Farsi, Turkish)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Discussion Guide
* Film Notes
* Official Site