By Simon Miraudo
June 13, 2014
The first name that came to mind during Fish & Cat, a two-hour and fourteen-minute Iranian film shot in just a single take, was Samuel Beckett. The next was Shane Carruth. That was not a jump I was expecting to take. Promoted as a “slasher flick,” Fish & Cat is probably everything but: a series of melodramatic vignettes concerning young Iranians and their complex romantic entanglements; a Waiting for Godot pastiche about two cannibalistic restaurateurs; a hallucinatory, science-fiction exploration of déjà vu; a buddy comedy about a teen girl and the invisible 40-year-old journalist who loves her. Writer-director Shahram Mokri tests our patience – and then some – with his slow-paced thriller, though the rewards littered throughout make the ordeal worthwhile. Frustrating? Certainly. This is also the rare example of when it’s fun to be f***ed with. Frankly, you can’t buy reveals as good as Fish & Cat‘s got.
I’m hesitant to say it takes place in real-time (we’re getting close to spoiler territory on that front). Let’s agree Fish & Cat‘s audacious gambit involves a camera following a series of teenagers one afternoon as they set up camp for a lakeside kite-flying competition. We woozily drift around the hip university students, each hiding some deeply-felt secret from another, some finding themselves cornered by the wandering cannibals. After an hour, we think we have the picture figured out, and then Mokri unveils a delirious narrative twist. What follows is anxiety-making, maddening, and pretty damn funny. Not all viewers will agree with that last thing.
Fish & Cat‘s cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari really did shoot this all in one take, and that’s an incredible technical achievement. The makers of Silent House – almost half the length of this and terrible – couldn’t pull that off. (The actors’ intricate choreography reportedly required a full month of rehearsal to hone.) Even if there were some cheat cuts hidden throughout, it wouldn’t matter. As a narrative miracle, it’s unimpeachable. Fish & Cat is like nothing else, and I mean that in the best way possible. The ending may not pay out on the perpetually-building promise of what comes before, but when what comes before is this strange and this surprising, it hardly matters.
Fish & Cat plays the Sydney Film Festival June 13, 2014.