"Men at Work" Review

By Ron Wilkinson Monsters & Critics

Screened as part of the International Narrative Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, the Iranian allegory "Men at Work" is as fun as it is amazing.

Director Mani Haghighi and co-writer Abbas Kiarostami have managed to shoot a very Iranian film that has the unmistakable look and feel of an hour long American beer commercial.

This is not to put the film down because it only enhances the bizarre dreamland that the audience is drawn into as the plot about four average men on a weekend holiday unfolds.

As the car jostles along the men give us brief accounts of their current situations. Each has his own story to tell about the trials and tribulations of being a guy in the modern world. Most of the situations involve women in one way or another and none of the situations has a particular beginning or end.

They simply exist, will continue to exist for better or for worse and there is little any of the men can do about it.

Previous stories centered in Iran focus on the differences between Islamic and Western life. So the fact that the four are on their way to a ski holiday in the mountains immediately knocks us off kilter.

It is funny and unnerving at the same time. They ski in Iran?

The car and ski-rack look distinctly like something one would see on a college campus in France. The fact that the men are dressed more like American college students than Islamics reminds us of John Travolta wearing the college sweatshirt in "Pulp Fiction."

When the four men happen upon a slender rock protruding about eight feet up at the side of the road we know something is up. They are as amazed at the rock at the astronaut is amazed at the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The rock, extant since the beginning of time, immediately comes to represent all of the obstacles in the world standing between the men and their happiness. It is the enemy of their status, the foil of their very manhood.

They decide the rock must come down. How strong can it be, anyway? A few feet around, eight feet tall, silly looking and ungainly, it should be, literally, a pushover.

At this point the film enters into Darwin Award territory as the men forage for makeshift tools, ropes and chains which to topple the dominant phallus.

Others stop by to help or to just stare in amazement.

Two of the men's women friends search them out in the mountains and meet them at the site, one helping in the attempted destruction of the rock while debating her partner's feckless life and ill-defined emotions.

At one point there are a half dozen cars collected at the crook in the road as humans are drawn to the sense of duty like some subliminal pheromone call for help. One of the men risks his life driving at the rock in his car at the edge of the cliff while his friends watch helplessly and shout for him to stop.

The ski weekend has receded into the distant background. This is war. And it is a holy war. A holy of manhood.

The mission of the rock has become a matter of honor and without completion it spells a defeat that the men may not survive. If middle-aged angst can be summed up in a little over an hour, this film does it in spades. No bloodshed or violence, but we can be glad they didn't have explosives handy.

And those mountains!

Originally Published May 13, 2006

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