A voiceover booms in Farsi, telling the tale of a restaurant that made news for serving human meat. The film opens with Babak and Saeed, perhaps the world’s creepiest restaurateurs, as they decide whether or not to give directions to some travelers. The alternative is obvious. Following this encounter, the two take a walk in the woods, armed with knives and (for some reason) a trash bag of rancid meat. From there the camera takes us on a circular tour of the woods, a campsite, and time itself. As each character passes by, the camera may or may not choose to follow, focusing on their story for the moment. Shot in a single take, the spooky and beautiful Fish & Cat is one of the most original films at this year’s festival.
Movies should be entertaining, thought-provoking, or both. The bleak, boring artsy-fartsy films frequently shown at festivals are absolutely miserable to me. Fish & Cat is a slasher film without the slashing. It’s filled with long-winded inner monologues and conversations that seem to have little to do with the plot. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if there even is a plot. And I loved it.
Despite the presence of the entertaining Babak and Saeed, I felt my eyelids getting heavy in the first twenty minutes. Then I noticed what was happening and shot up in my seat and was fascinated for the next two hours. As the camera left one character and took up the next, it created a kind of rift in time, showing someone doing from one point of view what they had already done from another. And it all works.
Looking at each intertwining story as a vignette, director Shahram Mokri tells some beautiful and darkly funny stories. The most memorable scene, when Babak badgers lovely Mina into the forest to help him fix a valve, had several people around me watching through their fingers. The mix of eerie score and clever horror conventions provides tension. Mama’s boy Kazim and his delusionally lovelorn father are a sad and amusing pair. Despite the complete lack ofaction and message, this film was highly entertaining.
There were a few noticeable flaws. The film isn’t particularly polished. The image quality was fairly low, giving an almost camcorder feel to the entire film. Actors had apparently rehearsed for a month, but it was obvious that voices occasionally had to be redone. Moreover, there were a few characters whose presence had no impact on the film, and monologues that dragged a bit. But the humor, tension, and sadness of the film, combined with the innovative form, made all of that easy to forgive.
It is rare that a film this slow and uneventful keeps my attention. And at over two hours, I would ordinarily have been ready for the ending, but the âsingle shot’ had me rooting for more. When it did finish, the closing was absolutely beautiful. I left Fish & Cat questioning my own tastes, and thoroughly impressed.
Additional Reading: Fish & Cat Wins Top Award at Venice Film Festival