Art And Culture

Déjà vu in the Woods

Déjà vu in the WoodsDéjà vu in the Woods

Tents are being erected in the middle of an autumn grey forest in northern Iran, on the banks of an eerily tranquil wetland. One after another, students from technical universities arrive to compete in a kite-flying race, that’s been a ‘Woodstock’-ish annual ritual for these creative minds -- and it appears they are not the only wanderers around this unusual landscape.

There are dramas of broken hearts, unrequited love, sudden friendships, open-space paranoia, and above all, an endless run of predators and prey. Also, slasher knives and one-armed twins. Yet, nothing here is extremely dramatic; there are no hectic shots, and no conventional blocking either. The long, single-take movie is a product of director Shahram Mokri’s spiral staging style, which is revealed in a breathtakingly meticulous manipulation of time and space.

Interestingly, ‘Cat & Fish’, Mokri’s only second feature, has been crafted in exactly the same manner as one of his first short experiments, ‘Limit of Circle’ (2005), which he made with the help of a group of Tehran Art University students. Eight years later, Mokri again has employed a young cast of art students and amateur stage actors, with the exception of 4 older characters, to fictionalize a true story of rumored man-butchers who ran a restaurant deep in the woods of Gilan Province in the 1990s.

With disturbing reports coming out of the unlikely source of the flesh they served, coinciding with the disappearance of a few young camping students, authorities started a probe and ordered the restaurant shut shortly afterwards. No one knows exactly who the three mysterious cooks were and where they are now.

 Multi-Narrative Story

But this is not the point Mokri wants to make. ‘Cat & Fish’ starts with a gothic sight of the notorious restaurant and creeps to an end a few steps farther. The 134-minute uncut journey of a curious, floating camera embodies Mokri’s propensity for multi-narrative storytelling, inspired by the works of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher -- best known for his explorations of infinity and strange loops. The repetitive motion thrill ride provides a labyrinth of non-linear short stories and decussating characters that come and go and come and go again.  

However, the tensely quiet tone of the chases and the déjà vu encounters is at times broken by some poorly drafted dialogues and a rather wimpish characterization. The soundtrack also beetles off the screen somehow as its exorbitantly classical arrangement fails to match up with the experimental nature of corresponding scenelets - occupied by non-actors whose zigzag movements are confined inside a whirlpool of technical obsessions.

At length, ‘Cat & Fish’ is undoubtedly a big formal achievement for its creator. By the time the camera tilts up from the closing music scene to the colorful kites dancing up in the sky, viewers have already started to revere the triumph of the creative camp despite its few losses on the way.