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Operation 747 [Mohammad Esmaeili, Iran, 2017]

Two veterans attempt to expose a fraudulent city council candidate, while stuck in a sanatorium whose staff seem to conspire against them. It is a premise that presents a minefield of potential clichés. Think back to other thrillers. Remember the slim-fit suits, the over-stylised shootouts, the antagonist’s droning monologues that seemed like they would never end? None of these appear in Operation 747. Instead, through astute direction and measured performances, writer-director Mohammad Esmaeili has created a surprisingly refreshing and tense thriller.

The film’s success is largely thanks to Esmaeili and co-writer Mojtaba Esmaelizadeh’s excellently paced and well written screenplay. Every character is well articulated, especially considering the narrative and time constraints of the 25-minute thriller. The plot moves at an energising pace, cleverly structured to tease enough mystery without convoluting its story.

Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be heaped on to all elements of the film’s production. Technical imperfections litter every one of Operation 747’s twenty-five minutes: objects are out of focus, shots overexposed, audio imbalanced, and a heavy-handed green sheen dominates the colour grading. And, whereas Esmaeili’s editing is generally good, his rapid, incommensurable cutting occasionally crosses a fine line from purposefully disorientating to unintentionally confusing. That said, if Bohemian Rhapsody’s [Bryan Singer, UK/USA, 2018] editing is the Academy’s new standard, Operation 747 could be in line for an Oscar.

Yet, despite its inconsistencies, Esmaeili’s direction contains noteworthy moments of technical excellence. Esmaeili’s clever sequencing exceeds itself as his film’s protagonist, Ahmed, desperately searches the sanatorium for his friend Majid. Quickly cut, transitional passages skilfully disorient the viewer, cleverly mimicking Ahmed’s confusion. In doing so, Esmaeili’s editing complements his excellent set design; the veteran’s sanatorium evokes a Deleuzian espace quelconque in its dehumanised, ruined post-war landscape. In fact, Esmaeili’s unpolished cinematography often adds (if not always intentionally) an appropriate stylistic flair. Lapsing focus, grainy images, and jarring close-ups create a grounded and gritty experience – a Kathryn Bigelow picture in the making.

But perhaps the greatest element of this ensemble work is its music. Arash Badpa’s score has the ability to seamlessly blend into the film’s background and withstand scrupulous inspection. It is a thudding rollercoaster, a pulsing undercurrent, and an instance of technical perfection throughout an otherwise inconsistent piece. Badpa’s soundtrack is the highlight of a collectively commendable effort, which has produced a surprisingly refreshing experience from a potentially wearisome premise.

Although the film is not perfect, technical refinement will come as Esmaeilli continues to make films. Indeed, trailers for his upcoming 2019 project Short Wave already look considerably more polished. For now, Operation 747 showcases an excellent storyteller whose future projects have great potential. Like the monitored veterans of the sanatorium, Esmaeilli is one to watch.


‘Operation 747’ was a film submission in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.


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