Fish And Cat

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Fish And Cat
"Awe inspiring."

Consisting of a single stunning take, Fish And Cat is a tremendous technical exercise in service of an incredible sustained mood of disquiet. In 1998 in a remote part of Iran, a restaurant was shut down for serving meat not fit for consumption, and later implicated in the disappearance of a number of tourists. Starting at a not dissimilar establishment, Fish And Cat toys with its audience as it winds its way through and across their expectations. Writer/Director Shahram Mokri has created something truly special - his camera follows various figures as their paths intersect, and loop, and recurse - some shots are recreated time and again, other moments are glimpsed from a handful of angles, and everything drips (sometimes literally) with clues and allusions that become significant retroactively.

Each pass through events adds extra layers of revelation, about individuals we have seen, their activities, and their intent. Yet from the very beginning Mokri makes it clear what's happening, what's going to happen - knowing what's coming just makes the tension worse. Starting at the restaurant, conversation starts ominiously and continues in that direction - "did you pass the gate?" - and the unblinking camera carries us over the hill and towards the site of a kite-flying competition. Young adults camping at a lakeside is classic horror movie territory, and opportunities for allusion and comparison to the genre abound. Fish And Cat is at the quieter end, not in the slash, the stab, the sudden scare, this is all disquiet, discord, and dissonance, and a subtlety of design.

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The cast of characters is large enough to give variety to the proceedings, but not so large that it becomes impossible to keep track as we gyre through chronology. Memory and nostalgia, deja vu, coincidence and conspiracy all feature. Time and space are folded together, the same small moments again and again. Small details become important too - something that looks like character detail by way of product placement is made much more significant by later context, a story told about the war stumbles a little further forward each time, gathering detail as those telling it trudge through this psychogeographically enhanced landscape.

It's hard to talk about without spoiling the things that are surprises - there are shocking moments, gasps elicited from the audience, but others are far more playful - but most important is to recognise an overwhelming sense of awe at the structure of the film, at its willingness to play with perception of time, space, truth. The scale of its single take is staggering, inspiring enough in outcome, the way our perception as audience is refocused as paths are picked up and discarded, but technically, logistically, it's awe inspiring.

It's also pretty long, around the two and a quarter hour mark, and while that indicates further the extent of the production's accomplishment it does on occasion trudge. With good intent, and outcome, and obviously the nature of it precludes the influence of an editor. Perhaps when it was being blocked and rehearsed (and the Making Of, one hopes, will eventually see light) there was an opportunity to reduce it. That said, it's clearly as long as it feels it needs to be, and achieves something with every moment on screen - it's just that while one shouldn't judge a book by its cover one can get a fair idea from the size of its font and its heft. This is novel, inventive, and invites close reading. One hesitates to say "post modern" for fear of driving audiences away, but it's critically satisfying. In a discussion of the event that draws people to the area, there's a question; "will someone win?" Mokri's film is itself a prize, and it deserves them.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2014
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A menacing pair descend on a campsite where a group of college kids have gathered for a kite-flying festival.


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