THE LOST STRAIT is a brutal Iranian war movie about the last days of the Iran-Iraq War. Shot in a cinema verite style with incredible detail and realism, the film gets almost everything right about a war movie from quickly building characters you want to survive to big stakes to savage action.
The film opens with four Iranian soldiers of the Ammar Battalion on their way home to Tehran after a long, hard stretch at the front. After eight long years, the war against Iraq is coming to a close in 1988. On the eve of signing a UN-brokered peace deal, Iraq launches a desperate attack across the Abughoraib strait, a strategically important mountain pass. If the Baathist army can get through the pass, they will gain position to push ahead to major Iranian cities and win the war. According to the film–which in turn was based on extensive fieldwork and interviews–the battle saw use of chemical weapons, the effects of which are shown.
The soldiers are given a choice to go home if they have to and otherwise report to the front to stem the tide. They arrive to find a traffic jam of vehicles and civilians fleeing the fighting. Here, we get to know the four men, as they show compassion to help wounded leaving the front and desperate civilians. A fifth character is introduced, Ali, a teenager whose father was severely wounded in the war and who wants to do his part. As one of them was charged with a family obligation to watch out for Ali, all of them do, and we see them and the war a lot through his eyes.
When they reach the front, it’s horror and chaos, a massive desert junkyard of trenches and broken equipment and raining shells. This was a large battle, but we’re given a snapshot of a day and a half of it. The action is less focused than but just as riveting as the final battle over the bridge in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. But more real–this is the horror of modern war, in this case with outnumbered, outgunned, and thirsty soldiers dug in against waves of tanks and infantry. The fighting is savage, and though the strait is saved, they all pay a heavy price.
This was a terrific war film and a real surprise find for me. Recommended if you can get your hands on it, as it’s hard to find.