18 Jun 2023

Like a Fish on the Moon

"Did you know that people are more beautiful when we hear their voice?" Like a Fish on the Moon, the winner of this year's Transilvania Trophy and the ex-aequo award for Best Actress (Sepidar Tari), is a restrained family drama that finds tension in the small details of everyday life. From the beginning, we know that something is wrong in the relationship between Haleh (Tari) and Amir (Shahdiyar Shakiba). The problem? Their four-year-old son, Ilya (Ali Ahmadi), has suddenly stopped speaking. After much struggle, it becomes clear that it's not a physiological cause, so the two rush to a psychotherapist who offers them a radical solution: the mother, who has obsessively taken care of the child until now, must step back, while the father, who has been somewhat absent due to a busy work schedule, must take on all the responsibilities regarding the child. Determined to solve the problem, the two parents accept the change, but it causes a rupture between them, revealing the cracks in their marriage.

Gradually, the petty quarrels give rise to aggressive behavior bordering on abuse. Amir reveals his jealousy - if the reason Ilya stopped speaking is because he saw his mother flirting with one of the fathers from the kindergarten? Later, Haleh is shocked to discover that Amir, in a fit of rage, is prepared to abandon their son if he doesn't start speaking immediately. The two, like Ilya, communicate less and less. It's a common conflict - a child has a problem, and the parents believe that the problem has arisen because of their failure to raise their child properly - but what makes the film by director Dornaz Hajiha feel fresh is the almost documentary-like approach, often seen in recent Iranian cinema. If it weren't for the classical music punctuating certain scenes, you could forget that you're watching a fiction film. The non-professional actors also enhance the sense of reality: Ahmadi's ambiguous behavior doesn't come with easy answers - you can't tell if the child has actually gone through a traumatic episode or if it's just a joke, which increases the pressure.

Like a Fish on the Moon is not only the story of a family in crisis but also an analysis of gender roles in Iranian society and a glimpse into how hidden truths are destined to surface eventually. Hajiha pushes parental emotions to agonizing extremes in this intriguing debut that, for the most part, feels like looking life in the eye.