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EIFF 2014: ‘Fish & Cat’ is Iranian unease filtered through one seemingly unbroken shot

Fish-and-Cat-Poster

Fish & Cat (Mahi va Gorbeh)
Written and directed by Shahram Mokri
Iran, 2013

The narrative, as it were, of Fish & Cat is told through what appears to be one long, continuous roving shot lasting over two hours in length, in the mode of cinematic experiment popularised by Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark in 2002. It employs a time-warp motif for the conceit, doubling back on what it has previously shown, either immediately before or sometimes much earlier in the film, to focus in on new topics. Additionally, while single-take experiments like both Silent House horror features may follow a lone protagonist venturing through a given locale, Shahram Mokri’s film crisscrosses between multiple characters across a fairly large plain, weaving its way through both the present and flashbacks while still under the guise of a sustained real time shot, even as space-time paradoxes become something of a regular feature.

A real-life incident provides the starting point for Fish & Cat. Opening text informs the viewer that, in 1998, a restaurant in Northern Iran was found to be serving human meat. The screen goes red, and an atmosphere of immediate unease is established by the film’s first sight being that of a pair of men roughly chopping meat outside of a deserted restaurant. The establishment looks off the beaten track, and the men seem seedy and are arguing. They are suddenly interrupted by a young man looking for directions for his carload of passengers. Assisting the young man, though in a thoroughly unfriendly exchange, the camera then follows the two meat-choppers into the backwoods, as a grey sky looms. One might think this is leading into a take on the cabin in the woods horror genre. While that creepy unease is present fairly consistently, a horror movie is not what you will find with Fish & Cat.

Fish and Cat

In a move somewhat rooted in the legacy of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, the camera, at least for a while, begins following a character that the previous object of focus has just encountered. The seedy restaurant men encounter another young man and his father in the woods, and after a while we then follow the son down to a campground by the nearby river. Various college kids have gathered for an annual kite-flying competition. Some of them know each other, some do not. A few participate in emotional confrontations with one another, while others cross paths with the menacing locals, the restaurateurs — the only apparent link to the real-life background information that opens the film — among them.

It’s all a very interesting blend of surrealism and naturalism, even when the momentum doesn’t always hold up over the near-140 minutes. It’s best as a technical experiment, as the over-stuffing of subplot and thematic concerns actually serves to make the film feel strangely bare in the end, though those particularly keen on puzzle films will likely get more of a kick out of it than most.

— Josh Slater-Williams

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