Review: Blue Land

Written and directed by Ali Fakhr Mousavi, a doctor travels to a remote village to get a break from his city life but soon starts to suspect that this quiet little community is hiding something. Starring: Mohammadreza Rahbari, Mohamad Jahanshahi, Behzad Dorani, Manoochehr Azar and Sahar Abdolahi.

This is a film that reveals itself very slowly, you have to stick with it as its true intentions don’t become clear until it’s nearly halfway in, there are a few hints to what it’s getting at before then but they’re few and far between. It touches upon a few different themes of tradition, superstition, religion and a hint of the supernatural but none of these are its actual focus which surprisingly is more of an amateur detective, crime story. It’s a shame to see as there is value and intrigue in the story it has to tell but one of the key issues that plagues the film is that it doesn’t play to its strengths.

There are aspects of the story that hark to Scandinavian crime dramas or shows like Top of the Lake but it misses the opportunity in its writing to really embrace the darkness that the story has to offer. It lacks a certain edge, for the most part it plays out simply like a drama, the pace is quite slow and as the story develops, it doesn’t have that ramping up of intensity that it calls out for. It would have been great to see it really double down on the mystery element to its story, to draw out your curiosity and eagerness to find the answer but it doesn’t get there. The lead character Arash (Rahbari), was also a strange choice to centre a film around, he’s selfish, vain and arrogant, as well as being someone who’s chosen a career of helping people when he doesn’t actually seem to like other people. It’s unusual as there’s no clearly redeeming quality to him until very late in the film, so it’s hard to dive deeper into the story when it’s being led by a fairly nonchalant character.

Rahbari’s performance is also quite casual, he doesn’t lean into the emotional aspect or bring out more striking reactions, it’s very downplayed and as such, doesn’t entirely work. That casual quality makes it feel too weak in energy to be a lead performance, he needed a stronger personality or more distinct qualities to pull off this role as the story is so strongly anchored around him. The rest of the cast don’t get too significant of a time onscreen but it’s a solid ensemble who bring a sense of variety to the film.

Mousavi’s direction is a bit of a mixed bag, there are a number of occasions where it feels too restricted and is not giving itself the space for a better shot but similarly others where it needed to settle down rather than having a constant movement in scenes that didn’t really need it. It spends a lot of time too close to its actors, taking a step back to use some negative space more effectively might have positively impacted the build of atmosphere. There are also some more technical issues with the film, most problematic is the subtitling work which doesn’t accurately translate the phrases, rather giving them more literal translations, and struggles with spelling errors, which both give it an awkward feel and takes away from the viewing experience.

Blue Land has some good raw elements but the execution is unfortunately flawed. There’s value in its story but the pacing and progression are cutting it off at the knees and not letting it have the impact it should. It feels as though there was a hesitancy to embrace the darkness to its story, to bring though an intensity, danger and threat which it desperately called out for, without that more thriller atmosphere it creates an unsatisfying journey. This film had potential but it feels as though it played it too safe.

Verdict: ✯✯ | 4/10

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