Well. Well, well, well. WELL!
There’s a documentary (The Ruins of Lifta) making the rounds, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is having a re-release, but the former smacks of Jewish guilt over the revolution—which can be fine, except there’s never, ever, EVER Arab guilat to counter-balance it—and the latter we’ll have several chances to catch, most likely, so The Boy lit upon this Persian film called Dracula, if for no other reason than he loves to see Western culture “appropriated”. (Sincerely. We both do.) It took me a while to find it at IMDB because the Anglicization of the Farsi is “Derakula” which is…well, once you know it, it makes it easy to find.
Indeed, within the first few minutes, he leaned over and said, “This is the worst Dracula ever!” meaning not the movie itself but how badly the old, fat wheezing Persian guy clashed with our idea of what Dracula should look like and be. But the movie plays fast-and-loose with the “vampire” concept, having them drink blood, yes, and become invisible in mirrors (but only when inclined to attack), and being somewhat longer lived than humans. It sort of brushes off the sunlight thing and the backstory has our Derakula as the descendant of vampires who fled Europe after WWII, their ancestors having met relatively mundane fates like automobile accidents.
Well, heck, I suppose a car wreck could drive a steering column through your heart, or whatever.
Anyway, the premise is this: Dracula’s wife has married him on the condition that he vow never to drink blood again (fruit juice, apparently, suffices) and they had a happy life together, including having a son but when it turns out the son is deaf, the resultant stress drives the guy back to his old ways, and he picks up a druggie at a local park to drink his blood. Once he’s started down this path, he goes full bore, picking up guys and killing them while hiding it from his wife, who nearly left him when she found out about the first incident a couple months earlier. (Which actually seems more like a metaphor for homosexuality than anything.)
When our story begins, our “hero” (’cause what’s a “hero”?), star and director Reza Attaran (Absolute Rest), is at said park doing drugs because he’s been out of work for a while—or is it, we later come to question, that he’s been doing drugs and thereby lost his job? Derakula picks him up but before he can kill him, his wife discovers the situation and leaves him. Our hero, with some persuasion (Dracula has money), decides to cover for him and the two form an unlikely friendship, along with other druggies and dealers (apparently everyone in Tehran is either one or the other, except the women).
The hook, which dates back to the ’60s at least, and probably much earlier, is that when Dracula drank the blood of that first junkie, he himself became addicted to opium. Hence, the subsequent desire to kill he could no longer control. Our hero is the one who tips him to the situation and also gives him his first dose of the straight stuff. This immediately cures the vampire’s desire to drink even more blood. So far, so good, right?
Step 2, of course, then, is to get off the junk. (And I’m not sure how many different kinds of drugs they do here. I’m not an expert in that by a long shot; I think hashish and possibly regular pot were in there. At the beginning our hero is looking to organize a strike against crystal meth dealers, who have jacked up the price. There may have been others.
But you, perhaps, see the problem here.
Derakula has enlisted the help of an addict to help him get off the stuff, and naturally the addict’s philosophy is pretty laid back. You have to be in the right mood to kick it. You can’t kick cold turkey. You can’t do—well, basically, anything effective. And if Mrs. Derakula didn’t like the blood drinking, she’s even less sanguine (heh) about drug addiction. So our poor fat wheezing vampire ends up worse and worse off.
Did I mention this is a comedy? It is for the most part. Nobody believes our hero when he claims to have been kidnapped (he’s a serial liar, as druggies will be), and his relationship with his wife is reminiscent of so many other Persian films we’ve seen. And also “The Lockhorns”, if you’re familiar with them.
So, there are some laughs here, and I enjoyed it. There were a couple of effective moments of horror, sort of surprisngly. But overall it was light-hearted enough (despite being about drug abuse) that I was sort of expecting a comic/happy ending in the mold of, say, 50 Kilos versus the darkness of Absolute Rest. But it does turn dark, rather abruptly, and then the movie is over, perhaps meaning to convey a message about the seriousness of recreational drug use, though leaving more than a few narrative questions.
At one point, Derakula scorns the hero’s characterization of vampires as bad guys, and delivers what is, essentially, a tirade against the brutality of radical Islam. Normally those speeches—often delivered by aliens or monsters—ring a little hollow, but when you realize this is Tehran and there really are ongoing acid attacks, dismemberments and stonings, vampires really don’t seem so bad.
I found myself enjoying it, basically. The Boy was on the fence. He liked parts of it, but he was a little disappointed in it, feeling it didn’t really go anywhere. This is true: The only motion in the film is the increasing dependency the characters have on drugs, and how unfettered access to Dracula’s money isn’t such a great thing for a person in that situation. But there’s only so much comedy you can fish out of a bunch of hebetudinous (thanks, Umberto Eco!) characters and the film probably relies to heavily on exposition to show the characters’ descent.
This was a special screening, so you may have to wait a bit for it to come around to your favorite Persian theater.