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Film Review: Land of Dreams
by Deborah Steinborn

Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari, USA|Germany|QA 2021

This political satire is set in what feels like the middle of an American no man’s land at some point in the not-too-distant future. The U.S. has closed its borders to all foreigners, apparently for good, and anti-immigrant sentiment is obviously high. Yet Simin (Sheila Vand), an Iranian-born American, holds a coveted job as a “dream catcher” for the U.S. Census Bureau, which has become the most important government agency of all. Foreigners recording America’s dreams? “We’re in pickle,” an old man on a porch says when Simin comes to visit for the Census Bureau.

In an effort to understand and control the country’s population, the government has started to record the dreams of its citizens. Simin seems unaware of the sinister side of this job. She seems to have been one of the last immigrants ever allowed into the country, and she is torn between her compassion for those whose dreams she records each workday and her artistic desire to literally re-enact the interviewees’ dream-telling in her spare time.

There are lots of great, stunning moments in this film, including some unexpectedly funny scenes with the actor Matt Dillon. He plays a tough-guy bodyguard called Alan Villin. The Census Bureau has sent Villin to protect Simin…or perhaps to spy on her. We don’t really know. The cinematography really is brilliant. Simin’s Mercedes-Benz cuts through vast, dusty roads. And when she walks past the Census Bureau each morning, it’s like she’s being swallowed by its imposing shadow.

But after a while (for this viewer, at least!), it starts to feel like one too many unfinished storylines have been introduced without a real overarching purpose. There’s a colony of secretive Iranian revolutionaries in the desert. There’s an annoyingly loud, vaguely foreign woman played by Isabella Rossellini who shouts nonsense through a television screen for just a bit too long. There’s a Black artist tormented by racial injustice, a wandering poet lovesick for Simin, and even more unresolved questions about the filmmaker’s intent in some of these storylines. I grew a little impatient towards the end – thus just three stars – but maybe it was all just a dream.