The Geniuses at Deaf Crocodile have done it again – a box set for a Filmmaker that deserves reverence and acclaim. The Time Bending Mysteries of Shahram Mokri is one of the best Blu-Ray sets of 2022.
Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories
Two blind thieves. A cop. A depressed and suicidal man. A couple. A magic ring. All collide and bounce off one another in writer/director Shahram Mokri’s debut feature film. The film is told in a non-linear but almost theatrical fashion. The film loops onto itself with single takes is one of the rare theatrically inspired styles that works cinematically. Rather than having his story edited in a non-linear manner, Mokri trusts his actors, virtuoso camera work, and most of all his writing to do this.
The result is something that’s thrilling, intelligent, confounding, confusing, and oftentimes hilariously humane. Mokri’s use of characters and incidents that repeat themselves but splinter into other siloes of a complete storyline is the sort of genius without the lack of arrogance few filmmakers or storytellers possess. Mokri’s film is never self-aggrandizing journey but rather one where the audience delights in the reveals. Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories
Is the perfect storyteller at a party that has been surrounded by guests hanging on to every story detail until its surprising and satisfying end.
One will not just be surprised at how everything is played out but the results. When Mokri’s film finally gets the crime at the center of the film, there is a level of expertise that rivals any of the sort of grandiose crime/heist films of recent memory. But done with a level of human error/folly that only enriches the experience.
Fish & Cat
A horror film based on a true-life crime story involving Cannibalism at a Kite Festival outside of Tehran. Again, here writer/director Shahram Mokri takes a simple concept. One that could have been a grotesque unpleasant affair and strips it to characters interacting with one another in a single take film that loops onto itself.
Mokri adroitly deconstructs the horror genre and specifically the cliched Teenagers Camping in the Woods subgenre. By taking away the gore and set pieces that show the cannabis hunting their prey we are left with the young characters all at the Kite Festival for very different reasons. Though it’s stripped of its blood lust, make no mistake, Fish & Cat is still a horror film in every respect. The long takes and the constant looping back to specific incidents giving us new light on situations creates an elegy of tension that plays throughout the film until the haunting final moments where the killer and victims are revealed.
Fish & Cat not only continues Mokri’s theatrically inspired style by creating editing through unbroken camerawork but performance and writing are also refined further here. The horror genre allows Mokri to place even more transcendent and strange visuals into his film. These touchstones are not mere additions but an evolution of his style adding to the refined vision of a filmmaker beginning to understand his own power and prowess as a filmmaker.
Set in the near future of a post-apocalyptic Tehran where the undefined incident has caused people to change. Police investigate a series of murders that occurred at a local sports club. As the members of the club reenact/reconstruct how they found a murdered friend, we see there is much more than meets the eye. Writer/Director Shahrn Mokri has created a labyrinthine tale of vampirism, friendship, and betrayal though one that is not easily deciphered.
Invasion is both a literal and figurative labyrinth created by Mokri. Easily his most cerebral inaccessible work to date. Characters continually walk through – because of his style of uninterrupted dates that loop onto themselves – maze-like corridors and concrete rooms feel like both sub and super text. Mokri is doing both the cryptic and obvious sometimes at the same time. Never letting you into the story but knowing the visual cliches of the story that play throughout.
The visual recall the post-apocalyptic films of the 1980s with concrete underground structures. The characters in uniforms for a future game that is never really explained or even scene. Anti-Heroes and monsters bore out of the cataclysmic event – again never explained fully. Authority figures being distrusted and looked upon with even more contempt than the monsters the anti-heroes are either hunting or helping. All of these things are present but never called attention to, even the story’s true trajectory is not revealed until its final moments.
Though Invasion is never easy to decipher through an audience member’s first viewing upon its final reveal Mokri’s work instantly requires a rewatch. A rewatch that sheds light on Mokri’s intent and the specific shell game he is telling. Much like Cat and Fish the genre or subgenre is a delivery system to discuss other thematics that the director is fascinated with. Though at its core Invasion still stands as an arresting piece of post-apocalyptic horror and one that those with the patience and an open mind will find as fulfilling as the work of David Lynch.
Writer/Director Shahram Mokri elevates his work again with Careless Crime a film that deconstructs both true crime, cinema, cinema-going, and so much more. Here Mokri’s even more playful that his previous efforts but adding more editorial decisions and varied visuals to this multi-layered piece of wily piece of cinema.
Careless Crime resides on three levels. The first is the true-life event in the 1970s of fires that were set in protest of the Shah that left hundreds dead. The second is the film Careless Crime in the film which is a fictional film written and directed by Shahram Mokri about a bomb, the military men who are trying to deal with it, and a group of cineastes holding a showing of the Iranian classic The Deer. The third is an account of a disturbed man’s attempt to burn a theater down during a showing of Careless Crime inspired by the events forty years ago.
These three realities collide and comingle throughout the runtime of Careless Crime creating an elegy on the nature of history and the power of films. Again, Mokri strips away the genre conventions. We have seen these types of self-important films – based on real-life events that are a tick time bomb to the exploitation of real-life traumatic events. Mokri defies and doesn’t give that exploitation. Like his previous work, he denies one of the bloodlust that typifies the genre and its endings. The result is a film about the tension of a moment that we never see. A moment that we know will occur but is never shown.
Careless Crime could be considered frustrating for some. A film that takes a real-life tragedy and creates an artful mediation on film and these types of incidents without the “payoff” that some will expect. Those audiences are not looking hard enough or are unwilling to see Mokri’s point. Careless Crime is both Mokri’s most conventional film but his most daring. One that’s final image is both beautiful and hauntingly disturbing. An image that says more than any sort of exploitative amount of violence could muster.
Deaf Crocodile and their restoration team have done a marvelous job at presenting Shahram Mokri’s work in the best possible version available. They care so much about the image and work done that they’ve included this bit at the beginning of Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories;
Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories was originally shot on video at 25 frames per second. For overseas distribution, Ashkan was converted to the international standard of 24 frames per second. Regrettably, this conversion was done by removing 1 frame per second from the movie, which may be occasionally visible. Despite this issue, we feel that this is the best available master for Ashkan and hope that it does not impact your enjoyment of the movie.
Additionally, with the permission of the filmmaker and rightsholder, a short scene featuring footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey was removed from this release for copyright reasons.
That kind of disclosure is the type that few boutique labels do upfront, it’s the kind of care that Deaf Crocodile takes in their restoration and presentation of their titles. That kind of care is seen throughout this box set. Each film is presented perfectly. Even Ashkan is beautifully presented, and the 1 Frame is NOT noticeable in the least. Deaf Crocodile continues to be magicians with their restorations and presentation of their titles.
With this kind of work, one cannot wait until Deaf Crocodile decides to get into the 4K UHD game.
They include the following;
- Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 1
Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 1 (65:22) – in this Q&A, writer/director Mokri discusses his childhood and formative years in Iran. Some of the details include the violence of war living on the Iran/Iraq border, how VHS players were forbidden at the time, seeing films for the first time, his memories of seeing film in the cinema, how his father guided him during his formative filmgoing years, his father being a critic before the Shah’s Fall in Iran, how reading, listening and occasionally seeing a film formed him, how he saw Kurosawa films before American films, his education and how he came through an Iranian program called The Young Cinema Association and what was involved with the program, the inspiration and making of Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories, the shorts he directed before making his feature and how they evolved his style, his push back on the youth movement that was inspired by the success of fellow Iranian filmmaker Kiarostami, the development of the script and how it evolved during the process and starting with a simple premise of a bank robbery involving blind people, his interest in multilayered storytelling beginning with his first viewing of Rashamon, the casting of the film, the visual style and working in Black and White with cinematographer Payam Azizi, the lack of Iran in the film and how that informs the film being about Iran and Iranian people, and much more. This first of a multi-part interview is a vital companion piece to Ashkan. Persian with English Subtitles.
- Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 2
Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 2 (66:37) – in this second part of the Q&A Mokri discusses the gap of time between Ashkan and Fish and Cat and the creation of the film. Some of the other details include the landscape of film in Iran had changed, the short films he directed during this time, the experimental nature of the project and how this kept financing at bay, how it was “based on true events” of this and other films are a sort of comment on based on true events movies, how slasher films inspired this film, Fish and Cat’s style inspired from the horror films of the 1970s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, his favorite horror films, how the single-shot style came about and how it evolved for Mokri and how Escher influenced this style, how Gus Van Sant’s harrowing Elephant was a touchstone for the director, the looping backward and forward in time and how this was developed, the importance of Kite flying in Iran and how it fits into the film itself, and much more. The second part of this multi-part interview is as vital to understanding Mokri as a filmmaker as it is to understanding how Fish and Cat was developed and produced. Persian with English Subtitles.
- Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 3
Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 3 (48:09) – in this third part of the Q&A Mokri discusses the linking of Fish and Cat and Invasion stylistically but how they are very different films inspired by very different subgenres. Some of the details include his inspiration from the style of the 80s genre films – clothing, settings, make up, atmosphere rather than storytelling devices, the vampire stories that inspired him beyond films, the creation and development of the game the players take part in and a discussion of how it’s played and the rules, the logistics of creating another single shot film and how this production differed from Fish and Cat, the concept of gender and fluidity in the film and its development and some of the issues that arose when making the film and Iranian censorship, how the Scarlet Witch was an inspiration for the twins in the film – well before the 2020 Disney+ TV Series, working with actors Babak Karimi and Pedram Sharifi whom he worked with previously in Fish and Cat – his relationship with them as actors and how it has evolved and developed, the world building in Invasion and the collaboration he had with his behind-the-scenes crew members, working with cinematographer Alireza Barazandeh and their approach to the style of the film, the challenging nature of the film and how it rewards with multiple viewings – and how that was received in Iran and abroad, how he intended the complex nature of the narrative and planned out every piece of the visuals and sound design to invoke this, and much more. The third part may be shorter but by no means is it lacking in information, in fact, this may be the most interesting of the four parts as Mokri discusses so much of his inspirations and inner-workings as a director on one of his most austere but most rewarding films. Persian with English Subtitles.
- Behind the Scenes of Careless Crime
- Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 4
Behind the Scenes of Careless Crime (22:25) – beginning with the “based on true events” moniker Mokri does a commentary on the b-roll footage of the making of Careless Crime. This is by far the most fascinating of the special features as it gives you a look behind the scenes of the film being made and comments by the writer/director. Mokri discusses the development of the project, his interest in theater and film and combining them, how the film was constructed and developed, how the incident at Cinema Rex sprouted and inspired Careless Crime, and much more. This hybrid commentary track is a great look at the making of this film.
Q&A with Shahram Mokri – Part 4 (59:18) – in the final part of the Q&A Mokri discusses how the Cinema Rex Fire – a real life incident that was one of the factors in sparking the Iranian Revolution of the 1970s – was the basis for Careless Crime. Some of the details discussed buy Mokri include a bit more historical context of the Cinema Rex Fire, a discussion of The Deer the film by that is at the center of the screening of both Careless Crime and the actual Cinema Rex Fire – its culture importance and the importance to Mokri, the complex story structure and how it evolved and continues to evolve in his work – how this came about from his own viewing habits, hilariously of all places on plane flights, the vitality of seeing films in the cinema especially in a Post-COVID era – seeing what people consider ‘art house’ films in the cinema, his memories from seeing films in a Library, seeing Bruce Lee films – in a truly wild setting, working with Babak Karimi again for a third time and his attraction to working with the actor, working with Abolfazi Kahani – the central arsonist in the film – and his casting, the casting of the various other actors in the film, working with cinematographer Alireza Barazandeh and how they approached this film as opposed to Fish and Cat, the release in Iran – which was happening at the time of the interview, the process to submit a film to be view in Iran and the counsel that reviews it – and how it was received by them, his future projects/plans, and much more. Mokri is an intelligent, gracious, and loquacious interview subject. The four hours of interviews that Deaf Crocodile has accumulated for this set is essential to understand just how these film were developed and conceived and most importantly context for this Important Filmmaker.
The Final Thought
The Time-Bending Mysteries of Shahram Mokri is a blind buy instant purchase box set for anyone that loves world cinema. Deaf Crocodile continues to astound with their releases. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!