A Film a Week - Like a Fish on the Moon / Balaye aseman zire ab

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Family is the hotbed for many things, positive and negative, usually negative. One problem might multiply and make the situations escalate quickly. One such Iranian family stands in the focus of the film “Like a Fish on the Moon” written and directed by the up and coming filmmaker Dornaz Hajiha. The film premiered at the newly established Proxima competition at Karlovy Vary.

We know that something is wrong in the seemingly idyllic lives of Haleh (Sepidar Tari) and Amir (Shahdyar Shakiba) right from the very start, and we know what the problem is exactly: their son Ilya (Ali Ahmadi) has stopped talking suddenly and apparently for no reason. Other than that, their lives seem perfectly normal for the members of the middle class in the urban areas of Iran. They both work, they have a place to live and a car to drive and Ilya has toys and video-games to play with. Of course, the sometimes have arguments, some of them heated, and Ilya sometimes hears them arguing.

There is no physical reason for Ilya not to be able to communicate, and he actually goes into some basic communication. Every doctor and every therapist the couple encounters has its own theory, and every their acquaintance has a doctor or a therapist to recommend. Their parenting style, however, differs: Haleh is more of a “helicopter mom” who would not stop hoovering over her son until she feels she has done everything, while Amir is more of a strict, structured dad. When one psychotherapist suggests that the two should switch roles regarding the care of their son, a rift between them widens…

In Hajiha’s film, coming after several shorts and a 2015 mid-length “Lost”, almost all of the components of the so-called Iranian style are present. We get the hand-held camerawork that follows our characters, reverse shots in dialogue scenes, long one-take scenes taking place in the car, an occasional jump cut and so on. Those are usually employed functionally, sometimes with particular wits, for instance the thing that we never see the faces of the doctors and the therapists is a good decision. On the other hand, the slow progress of the plot and repetitions with minimal variations that fuel the gradual rise of the tension between the spouses, might tire a viewer out even after the very compact runtime of 78 minutes, especially if the hypothetical viewer is not that into that “married with children” situation.

The actors do their job commendably well. Typically expressive Iranian acting style suits the scenes when the emotional tension is risen to a higher level, but both Sepidar Tari and Shahdyar Shakiba are quite capable to act in the low key and in more realistic manner when the script wants them to. However, the lion’s share of praise should be given to the child actor Ali Ahmadi who has only facial expression and movement on his disposal to act his part. The newcomer manages to win the audience over and keep it related to his character. On the visual and technical level, “Like a Fish on the Moon” is a competent work, although it is clear that Dornaz Hajiha worked with a modest budget.

In the end, “Like a Fish on the Moon” lands on the territory of a slightly above average film, more on the arthouse than on the crowd-pleaser side, which is also fair. If it could be a bit livelier or if could it problematize and explore some other fields (for instance, the class background of the leads and their particular lifestyle choices based on it), it could have been even better. But as a story of parenting and one problem becoming a series of problems, it is also good enough.

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