Filmmaker Mohammad Shirvani has a following on international festival circuits, but Fat Shaker is his first Iranian feature in the Sundance film festival is programmed in the reputedly under-appreciated New Frontier experimental section. This highly individualized work, remains unlikely to see exposure beyond film festival and educational settings in Europe and beyond, it is not mainstream! The film also plays Rotterdam this week.
Boldly and unabashedly experimental, but also deliberately obscure and frustratingly structured, the film challenges audiences to attempt a productive level of engagement at almost every stage. Concerning a morbidly obese man (Levon Haftvan) and his abusive relationship with his deaf-mute adult son (Navid Mohammadzadeh), Fat Shaker examines their dysfunctional situation with a near-documentary approach. The son plays something of a caretaker role, providing massages and other treatments – including assistance with a weight-slimming machine – and receives nothing but criticism and physical abuse from his father, an angry alcoholic who consumes copious amounts of illegal liquor.
A woman photographer (Maryam Palizban) who takes an interest in the pair provides some gentle intervention, but soon the father is mistreating her as well, even though he often appears too drunk or disoriented to even care for himself. Whether the woman`s presence will have a healing effect on this fractured family will depend on the father relenting some degree of obsessive control, which is not a concession he appears to welcome.
Shirvani fractures the narrative into several main setpieces, presenting them out of chronological order, then further convolutes the visual style with frenetic handheld DV camerawork and substandard lighting. Although the events that unfold suggest a refutation of patriarchal social customs, since the only character with substantial dialogue is often drunk or mentally disengaged, little meaning emerges from onscreen conversation. Further lacking any overall symbolic or metaphorical structure, Fat Shaker`s narrative impenetrability renders its self-reflexive point of view exceedingly esoteric, which makes it easy enough for viewers to assign whatever meaning they consider appropriate to the film.
Cast: Levon Haftvan, Maryam Palizban, Hassan Rostami, Navid Mohammadzadeh
Director-writer: Mohammad Shirvani
Producer: Mohammad Shirvani
Director of photography: Mohammad Shirvani
Editors: Mohammad Shirvani, Pouya Parsamagham