Sometimes at a film festival, films that don’t have a lot of buzz can surprise you with what they say and the story it tells. The Iranian film Like A Fish On The Moon is one story that impressed me with its story.
The film begins with a psychologist telling Ilya, a 4 1/2 year old Iranian boy, to draw a picture. The psychologist talks to his parents, Haleh and Amir, and explains the problem. Ilya was a normal boy but up until recently, he became a mute. The parents can’t understand the sudden change. The psychologist explains it may be about friction in the family and recommends they make some changes for Ilya. Like the two switch their common roles.
Over time, Amir reluctantly does more of the things with Ilya that Haleh normally does while trying to manage his career. Haleh also spends more time with Ilya but can’t help but be silent about the situation. Something is bothering her about this new arrangement. In the meantime, Ilya is still not talking. Ilya can communicate through body language but not through talking. He occasionally cries, but that’s it.
In the meantime, Amir and Haleh try and look for better treatments or better doctors for Ilya. They try one doctor who makes one recommendation and another that makes different recommendations. Another doctor recommends putting Ilya in a daycare for children with special needs. The parents are upset with the arrangement Ilya’s put in. As the parents make each attempt to help Ilya’s situation, it starts weighing down on them and causes friction in the marriage. It even includes moments where they’re silent to each other. Ilya is able to notice it all.
Then one day, the family decide to go to the beach. Amir plays with Ilya but Haleh can’t get herself involved. Amir warns Haleh that it’s too dangerous to get close to the fierce waves, but Haleh is quietly hurting. She walks closer into the waters much to the shock of Amir. As Amir rescues Haleh, Amir has had it. He’s ready to abandon Ilya if he doesn’t talk on the spot. All Ilya can do is cry. It’s after this shocking incident that it ends on a note of family unity and the couple again working to help Ilya.
This is a story of intrigue because this is a scenario one can identify with. If not directly, one can know of a couple going through this.A child has a problem or a disability and it affects both parents. A father may have to make adjustments in his career. The wife also would have to make adjustments in her life too. Through it all, it affects both of them emotionally. Sometime the parents think their child’s disability or condition is their failure. Sometimes it affects the marriage. I don’t think it would end up in such extremes as it did in the film’s ending climax, but it does affect them.
The unique thing about this film is that we so easily forget that this is a fictional situation and they’re all acting. In a lot of ways, the film tricks us into thinking this is like a docudrama where we’re watching a real situation unravel itself over time. A lot of things come into factor, like how low in tone the actors are acting, or the follow-around cameras. That has to be the film’s best quality. Taking a fictional situation and making it feel real, in addition to the quality of the story itself. Throughout most of the film, there are hidden feelings. We see the parents say and do one thing, but we can sense that’s something is hidden. You will notice it in the more silent moments of the film. Whatever is kept hidden, it is slowly but suddenly revealed in the ending climax. Seeing how it quietly builds and builds and then reveals itself in the end is another quality of this film.
This is a very good film by writer/director Dornaz Hajiha. She has done two short films in the past and this is her first feature-length film. Her film touches into the topic of family relations and roles of the members of the family as much as it is about the family itself. I supposed Hajiha is trying to make a statement about gender roles and how it conflicts with family unity. Especially in a country like Iran. Sepidar Tari does an excellent job in her performance as Haleh. She says more during her silent moments than when she’s talking. Even as she acts like she’s carrying on well, we get a sense that something’s wrong. Shahdiyar Shabika is also good as Amir. He comes across as the husband who tries to go along with the situation and make it work, only to explode in frustration at the end.
Like A Fish On The Moon is not just the story of a family in crisis. It’s a story of truths hidden and kept silent that eventually come out at one particular moment. However it almost seems like you’re watching a real-life situation before your eyes.