In World War III (Jang-e jahāni sevom), Mohsen Tanabandeh plays Shakib, a day laborer who, along with other men, waits each day to be chosen for whatever work he can get. Having lost his family in an earthquake, he finds companionship with Ladan (Mahsa Hejazi), a deaf prostitute, with whom he communicates in sign language, which he learned because his mother was deaf.
One day, Shakib is taken to a construction site to build a fancy house and other structures. He and the other workers gradually come to realize that what they are building is a movie set. Their own temporary accommodations are cold and uncomfortable.
Without warning, Shakib and the others are ordered to stop their construction efforts and change into striped clothing so they can be used as extras portraying Jews being sent to gas chambers during the Holocaust. A group of actors dressed as Nazis arrive by car, out of which appears an almost comical version of Adolf Hitler. The production is so poorly done that even the day laborers whisper to each other that it is like a bad joke. Within seconds, the actor portraying Hitler collapses, apparently from a heart attack.
Ignoring the protestations of the film’s producer, the director picks Shakib to play Hitler. Shakib refuses because he has no acting experience. But he is offered a larger salary, and he can sleep and eat in the fancy house where it is warm and comfortable. Indeed, it is nicer than any place he has ever stayed. During video calls, Shakib keeps in touch with Ladan. Meanwhile, he grows into the role.
But then Ladan shows up, having escaped from her pimp, Farshid (Morteza Khanjani), and his thugs. Shakib hides her in a basement area, and, for a while, they enjoy a pleasant secret life. When Shakib asks Ladan if she came because of the house or him, she charmingly admits that it was the house. But now he is more important to her because he is the first person to treat her kindly and with respect. Unfortunately, Farshid tracks them down and demands a ransom to release Ladan from his control. Shakib has nowhere near the amount of money required and is forced to reveal what is going on to the filmmakers, from whom he begs enough advance salary to pay off Farshid.
At this point the situation deteriorates rapidly. Shakib tries to help Ladan escape, but she chooses to stay with him.
Houman Seyedi, who directed and co-wrote World War III, presents a world where almost everyone is selfish, corrupt and ready to bully and take advantage of anyone less powerful than they are. Among other themes, the film is a harsh condemnation of people who work in the cinema industry.
Seyedi and Tanabandeh have gained awards in festivals ranging from Venice to Tokyo to the Asian World Film Festival in Los Angeles.
The title is metaphorical, but unfortunate, because potential viewers might think the film really is about a third world war.