Film Review | A Dysfunctional Cat

An Iranian-German co-production, screening tonight at Spazju Kreattiv, is a tender romantic drama placed in a unique context

Kitty crutch: Mina (Pegah Ferydoni) finds solace in a stray cat as the shift from Iran to Germany finds her disoriented
Kitty crutch: Mina (Pegah Ferydoni) finds solace in a stray cat as the shift from Iran to Germany finds her disoriented

‘Disney ruined romance for me’ is a common enough meme among Westerners of a particular generation. It’s an expression of how such perfect representations of romance cannot even begin to live up to what we encounter in reality. Rom-coms don’t fare all that much better later on, with their contrived ‘complications’ often leading to easily flattened out solutions, where our previously mismatched couple reassuringly clicks into place and lives happily ever after too.

A Dysfunctional Cat, the debut feature by Iranian-German director Susan Gordanshekan, doesn’t so much deconstruct these models of romance, as imbue them with a humanistic tenderness, all the while allowing the film to unfold in a context that will not be all that familiar to most.

Born and raised in Iran, Mina (Pegah Ferydoni) is late to the marriage game, by the usual standards of her country. Finally pushed to be more pro-active on this front by her mother, she accepts to marry Kian (Hadi Khanjanpour) a doctor based in Germany, and relocates there. Keen to continue her academic studies in Germany, Mina is compromised by the language barrier.

Accepting to undertake a course in German, Mina whiles away the time in slow-burning alienation, and her burgeoning partnership with Kian – set up in a traditional style that Kian describes to colleagues as a “blind date” – is tested.

But when a cat with a genetic defect wanders into their lives, the seams of their relationship begin to be more explicitly manifest.

Gordanshekan is a remarkably unobtrusive filmmaker, and this respect for the psychological space of her protagonists has an enhancing effect on the performers. Plenty of room is left for both Ferydoni and Khanjanpour to flesh out their characters; outwardly unremarkable as they may be. Instead of the standard tropes of the romantic comedy or romantic drama, here is exile that provides an organising principle to the story, with both characters struggling to fit into a world that may not have been made for them, but in which they just about manage to find acceptance.

And where the introduction of the cat could have come across as a cheap and quick way to telegraph theme and ‘message’, here it feels like an adequate quirk that only humanises the story further.

Above all, however, the film belongs to Ferydoni. Her stumbles and mishaps are our own, and we can only love her for them.

The verdict

A tender and perceptive portrayal of a relationship that could go either way, A Dysfunctional Cat transcends the ‘culture shock’ hook of its premise to present something real and affecting. Devoid of contrivance and melodrama, it also gives ample breathing space for its two leads, fleshing out an awkward meet-cute made all the more poignant by the specifics of its cultural trappings.

A Dysfunctional Cat was screened at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, as part of the Rima Film Festival.