Screens at CIFF: 10/13 & 10/15
World premiere: 26 April, 2013, HotDocs Canadian International Documentary Festival

Winner of the Gold Hugo for Best Documentary

There is an Iranian man, Mahmood Kiyani Falavarjani, whose life in even the most succinct terms is so unbelievably interesting that a whole series of feature length documentaries might just about be enough to start covering it, but for right now, we have to make do with the single 73-minute Trucker and the Fox.

That most succinct way of putting it, for me, would be along the lines of, "When he's not driving a truck, Falavarjani makes semi-experimental short films." We can add a few details just to sweeten the pot: "When he's not driving a dilated truck held together more by the sheer power of hope than its own structural integrity, Falavarjani makes semi-experimental short films in which cagey editing is used to make animals look like they're acting out complex dramatic narratives". And in case that still doesn't make it sound like this dude is one of the most colorful people that you will ever find inhabiting a motion picture, fictional or otherwise, the guiding structure behind Trucker and Fox involves his recovery from a bout of depression severe enough to land him in a sanitarium, brought on by the death of his favorite star, a desert fox.

Now, having proposed that Falavarjani is thus so compelling as a human interest subject, I will concede that for all its immense charm, Trucker and the Fox is surely not the best film that could be made about this man's life. It is short as hell, for a start, and while I guess that three, three-and-a-half hours might be a lot of time to follow him in one go, 73 minutes is barely enough to finish establishing who he is, before the time comes to say goodbye. It's also really hard to argue that director Arash Lahooti is using even that 73 minutes as efficiently as possible, for there is quite a lot of raggedy material on display here, and the film is much too willing to shore up audience goodwill by ditching its actual content for a display of animals being cute, or at least being abused in cute ways. And this is appreciated, of course, because who doesn't want to watch an indignant fox being given a bath and then blown dry? But that has the benefit of being directly tied to the organising narrative, which concerns Falavarjani's attempts to find a new fox for his latest opus, in which a pair of donkeys in love are separated by the craftiness of a fox and a crow. Whereas other scenes are spurious at best: you'd have to be made of cast stone not to be charmed by a little girl playing with a kitten and observing that it looks like he's wearing eyeliner, but you'd also have to be much more forgiving of both little girls and kittens than I can imagine being to claim that the scene adds anything of real value to a film that simply does not have room to screw around.

It's a shallow movie, really. The thing that you'd expect - anyway, I expected it - to be the driving force of the whole feature absolutely isn't: while it's surely the case that Falavarjani's desire to immediately fling himself into a new project and especially his single-minded obsession with finding a new fox are methods of coping with his recent, crippling depression, and funnel his energies into something constructive, Trucker and the Fox isn't remotely interested in actually grappling with the challenges of clinical depression. At times, Falavarjani visits with his doctor, updating him on the progress of the movie as a way of explaining how he's working to be healthy, and this is absolutely the only time where the film even seems to recall that it opened with the subject stuck in a hospital; the scenes are so untethered from the rest of the film that the second time it happened, I'd honestly forgotten that he even had a doctor. This is not a serious film about depression; it is a film, literally, about how depression can be cured by cute animals. And while this thesis fuels the entire internet, it's not really true.

Still, it's easy to grip about what the film isn't so enthusiastically that you lose sight of all the immensely charming things that the film is. And though I have certainly not made it sound that way, I actively enjoyed Trucker and the Fox: it is a wonderful chance to spend time with one of the most idiosyncratic film directors this side of Werner Herzog, and the small snatches of his movies that we get to see suggest that Falavarjani is indeed a pretty savvy, intuitive filmmaker. That's when he's not bemoaning the state of the trucking industry in modern Iran, or spending so much energy looking for animal actors that the quest for the animal becomes a bigger thing than the nominal goal in gathering them together.

The film is light, and silly, but it is not mocking; while openly allowing Falavarjani his quirks and eccentricities, it's also genuinely interested in the things he's doing and what he has to say. It's not a film that digs, either into psychology or the process of making these films (which, at two years for a ten minute short, would probably be dull to watch in real-time, anyway), but for an audience-pleasing truffle of a personality profile, it could hardly be more delightful, warm-hearted, and cute.

I mean, fuck. There's a short he made where a kitten wrestles with a crow. You cannot imagine what cute even means if you haven't seen that.