Culture Rover

#113 - Weapons of the Weak

The bullet casings are in a clay bowl. Their golden shells glint in the moonlight that streams in through the window.

A hand reaches into the bowl, lifts a few bullet casings into its palm, and stands them on a table in neat rows, like chess pieces.

We see the hand reach into another bowl filled with flour. A stream of water pours in from the spout of a vase. The hand mixes the flour and water into a paste.

Then, with a thin black tube, a man pours the paste into the bullet shells, preparing them for use. His beard is neatly trimmed, black with specks of white in it. He has dark olive skin and gentle eyes that are slightly enlarged by the magnification of his glasses.

In this most striking scene in the Iranian film Iron Island, this man is the teacher of the children on a rusted, abandoned oil tanker, a slowly-sinking squat on the sea for the poorest, most marginalized Arabs of an unnamed country in the Middle East.

We think the teacher is preparing bullets for something violent -- a battle, terror attack, or perhaps suicide. Then, in the next scene, the teacher taps the rifle cartridges gently against the table. Out come perfectly cylindrical sticks of chalk.

He tests each one out, marking an X on the wall by his bed, as if he were a prisoner in a cell, measuring time, turning what was used up into what can be used, plotting his escape, not exactly beating swords into ploughshares, but certainly transforming the weapons of war into the tools of education.

15 October 2006

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