EIFF 2013: 'Fat Shaker' review

Winner of the Tiger Award at this year's Rotterdam Film Festival, Mohammad Shirvani's Fat Shaker (Larzanandeye charbi, 2013) went on to become the first ever Iranian film to screen at Sundance. Now receiving its UK premiere in Edinburgh, the surreal stylistics of Shirvani's absurdist drama have already evoked extreme controversy in its native Iran. Centred around the destructive relationship shared by a morbidly obese man and his deaf son, Fat Shaker observes the pair's rituals through a nauseating documentary-like approach, with scenes purposely rearranged to further complicate an already bewildering narrative.

Using his disabled yet attractive son to entrap and blackmail young women, this overweight, alcoholic father is a constant source of tyrannical abuse and belittlement, culminating in an illusory portrait of paternal repression clearly intended to mirror the severity of a traditionalist government. Through a series of needlessly cryptic episodes that combine surrealist imagery with impenetrable storytelling, this oppressive father-son relationship is only altered by the arrival of an enigmatic woman, accompanied by a wind of change.

The woman's introduction marks a volatile power shift within the household, the subsequent interactions between genders mirroring the political transformation of Iran - albeit through a deeply Freudian methodology. However, Shirvani's audaciously bold and unabashed example of experimental filmmaking is so intentionally opaque and frustratingly chaotic that the requirement of its audience to attempt such a heightened level of contemplative rationalisation renders the whole experiment hopelessly inaccessible to all but the most patient. A convoluted muddle of several set pieces told out of sequential order, Fat Shaker does itself few favours through its use of handheld digital camerawork to capture its enigmatic events.

Frantic and often nauseating, this amateurish and overtly realistic methodology fails to coalesce with the film's ethereal diversions into absurdity, resulting in a frustratingly ugly film told almost entirely through the dialogue of a repugnant, drunken patriarch. Heavily symbolic, yet arguably more contrived than intelligent, it's clear that each of these impervious vignettes is some form of metaphor for the current political situation in Iran - it just remains a shame that they're articulated in such a nonsensical manner.

Seemingly destined to fade away into half-deserved obscurity, this commendable yet flawed feature remains a conundrum - not only in what it's attempting to communicate, but why it's managed to enjoy such a lengthy festival run. Certainly one of the most unusual films to screen so far at this year's Edinburgh Film Festival, Shirvani's Fat Shaker is also sadly one of the most frustrating and technically inept.

The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble


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