Shahram Mokri’s Fish and Cat: An impressive one take journey of perception and memory.
I was back to Shorts on the 8th day for Phantom Landscapes, a programme organised around the theme of mental scapes, perception and consequent subjective assemblage of the world. All the films selected for this session recurred to a voiceover – in the form of narration or stream of thought, in some cases even lyric reflection – to, together with the image and in specific juxtaposition with that image, organise their narrative or experience. In an evident (conscious or not) curatorial decision, this element helps to give the program an even stronger sense of unity that could also be found in other formal aspects (use of film, experiment with narrative, documentary approach) but not in the quality of the individual works.
One of the most interesting (surprisingly, I confess) films of the bunch was Nicole Vogele’s Into the Innards. What in the beginning seems to be an exercise in stream of consciousness, with its unframed arbitrarity, quickly grows to be a complex, engaging (you’re just taken, eyes wide open) and witty composition – as a music piece, exactly – of human perception and subjective description, both exterior (image) and interior (words). Image and word work, throughout the whole film, as each other’s mirror – either clear or distorted, at times – so, as the unstoppable rhythm of the journey (through the Swiss Alps) progresses, we get to feel less randomness than precision, only organised in an hyper subjective way but opening as much way for sensorial reception as for conceptual insight. Mixing film and video, Into the Innards is sometimes Gertrude Stein, others Renoir (the painter) and most of them the former getting born from the latter, in a frequently humorous and very poignant reflection of reality.
Being generally a good session, I felt Vogele’s work and also Marko Tadic’s Born by the Birds were clearly stronger than the other films of the group which either failed in development (structural, narrative or both) or were simply less interesting.
Shahram Mokri’s Fish and Cat was my only feature of the day and it was enough to occupy my mind (and spirit, appropriately) until my first screening on the next day, or even beyond that.
It is in the first instance a film of immense sensorial pleasure, a cinematic experience that, from a certain point on, grows to be one of the most enthralling ones I had in a film screening recently. It is so much of a physical experience as it is an intellectual and emotional one; even if not right at first. At first we just feel transported, like levitating and taken by the hand – we are the camera, we are one with the person who’s the eyes of the camera – hovering on the greyest and most miserable “summer camp”, repeating the same patterns, the same paths, absent of all dangers.
The dangers in Fish and Cat are everywhere since the first frame, they are on us too. Playing with the audience’s expectations (on a more plain level, with the slasher film references) and sense of suspense (a Hitchcockian one, we all know what is going to happen) Mokri sets the grounds for deception, the sweetest ever maybe, when suddenly (after walking alongside the expected killers, expecting killings) we find ourselves in a melancholic conversation of father and son, evoking the past and delaying the present, introducing new characters and also a meta discourse, as the voice over of the son commenting their dialogue. It is the first jump to a new (or several new) realms in the film and one could think that it is too much to cope with but it’s not, it is absolutely the right way to prepare us for what is coming and it’s also more of an addition to the basis that was already set than a change per se. Everything is contained already in this scene – a beautiful, funny and quite moving scene – repetition and duration will do the rest.
A text in the beginning let us know about the real case of a restaurant in the Iranian countryside, in which the meat that was served was of people who disappeared in the region. Then you see teenagers stopping their car to ask for directions in a terribly shabby isolated house; like you’ve seen in Texas, correct. That house is in fact a restaurant owned by two very suspicious men, one of them holding a white cloth as a bag, containing something that turned it pink; all is what it seems but also much more. Starting from that exact place, the film take us on a journey through the forest and lake that surround it in one unbelievable continuous shot that is not just a way to depict time in a conventional real time way but also fundamental to create the sense of unstoppable stream of events running in circles that will unfold later on. At some point the scenes seem to repeat themselves in what you would say is a loop of time, a reset of the events; then you see beyond, you see clearly. It is not the time that is being reset I believe, but the characters who are repeating the actions, as if they were in a perpetual state of oblivion due to an endless loss of memory.
Fish and Cat is a film about perception and memory, in which only the dead remember. Through the paths, stepping the muddy leaves, we are taken but, if the camera always seemed to be (though not ostensibly) subjective, it is just at the very end, when the voice of the dead girl rises in anticipation of her own death, describing it, that we understand that we were walking with the dead, that the voice overs – remembering, anticipating – were the voices of the ones who perished. Stuck with the memory of those events, touring us, showing us that by losing memory you are bound to repeat the same mistakes forever, to always head to disaster, the dead also show us how the sense of life and beauty are born out of death and ugliness – the astounding moment of the girl by the lake, that turn to the camera in a close up, and the (superbly) grim cinematography seems beautifully ethereal, for a brief moment.
Simultaneously moving and political, spiritual and physical, Fish and Cat is a rich and mysterious film about Iranian youth and history. One of the best in the festival and one to come back later for a more developed reflection.