Fat Shaker: Sundance Review

Fat Shaker

Iran (Director and screenwriter: M Shirvani)

An obese father and his handsome, deaf son share extraordinary experiences in Tehran. Then a beautiful young woman upsets the balance of their relationship, forcing them to renegotiate their position with each other and the world around them. Cast: Levon Haftvan, Maryam Palizban, Hassan Rostami, Navid Mohammadzadeh.

Genuine commitment is required to extract adequate significance from the events depicted onscreen.

The first Iranian film to premiere at Sundance has reportedly been declared "anti-Iranian" by some "fundamentalist websites."

PARK CITY – Filmmaker Mohammad Shirvani already has a following on the international festival circuit, but Fat Shaker is the first Iranian feature to premiere at Sundance, programmed ironically in the underappreciated New Frontier experimental section. According to reports, “fundamentalist websites” in Iran have declared the film “anti-Iranian," whatever that means in the context of this highly individualized work, which remains unlikely to see exposure beyond festival and educational settings. 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.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, New Frontier 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
No rating, 85 minutes