Mind you, that wasn’t the original plan. We planned to see “Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh’s new film about the painter J. M. W. Turner. That was before we realized the film was 149 minutes, and we agreed we weren’t ready to commit to almost 3 hours of sitting. The Iranian “Fish & Cat” was what I had tickets to next, so Mom figured she’d tag along. We whiled away the time before the film with some very nice drinks at the Roosevelt Hotel across the street. I had a Spiced Cucumber Collins (Hendrick’s Gin, lime, shishito pepper, cucumber, and mint) which was quite refreshing. I heartily recommend trying to recreate it at home. Yum.
There was a healthy line for the film, which the AFI schedule advertised as a “horror comedy art film,” like “a ‘Friday the 13th’installment directed by Alain Resnais.” While that is one of the finest descriptions I have ever come across, I suspect that it did the film a disservice by attracting people who were expecting more “Friday the 13th” and less Alain Resnais.
It’s hard to say much about the film without utterly ruining it. Here goes.
The film has been making the rounds of festivals and doing very well, but there is no sign yet that it will be distributed. It certainly should be. However you want to categorize the film generically, it’s worth seeing for the formal experiment. The 134-minute film is one take, but what’s really interesting is how the director, Shahram Mokri, uses that formal restriction to play around with time.
The assistant programmer who introduced the film argued that it has flashbacks. I’m not so sure that’s what they are; regardless, there is something tricky (not gimmicky) and fascinating happening with the element of time. The film mostly follows its characters around, often literally from behind, slowing down and elaborating on the “West Wing” walking and talking method of shifting from one character or group to another. This allows the viewer to “return” to scenes that have already happened, from a different perspective.
Aside from its formal value, the film is beautiful and often darkly funny. I was enchanted by Babak, one of a trio of possibly murderous restaurant owners, played by Babak Karimi. If you’re familiar with Iranian film, you may recognize him as an editor and actor. (He was in Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 film A Separation.) That’s Karimi in the poster up on the left.
He has some wonderful sequences, including the beginning. It’s a riff on American horror films, in which a car full of young adults who have gotten lost on their way to a campsite stop at a run-down restaurant to ask for directions. Babak’s response to the young man’s request for directions is to ask for his ID. Repeatedly. And to ask him whether or not the gate they passed was closed. Repeatedly. The kid is lucky he got his ID back.
I spent the first 40 minutes or so chafing against my Friday-the-13th expectations, but once I let go of them, I enjoyed the film immensely. So did my Mom. If it does get picked up, I do hope that whatever tiny marketing campaign it gets does it justice.