A lost dog bears silent (well, wordless at least) witness to various human-societal ills in “Paat,” Amir Toodehroosta’s accomplished first feature. This episodic narrative with one furry running thread is a modest, compact enterprise that should continue successfully traveling the fest circuit, perhaps picking up an award or two to bolster eventual home-format outreach to Iranian cinema fans offshore.
The titular hound — we have to take that moniker on faith, since no characters of any species are named onscreen — seems to live a pretty contented life with his thirtysomething Tehran owner. But the man is in some sort of murky trouble with a woman; when he stops avoiding her to hash out their beef in person, she apparently stabs him to death. Paat stays by his master’s side until the next day, when noises lure him into the street outside, where he must flee gun-wielding “dogcatchers.”
(Puzzled viewers might want to know that dogs are considered “unclean” in most Muslim cultures. Lately there’s been a crackdown by Iranian officials confiscating the previously thinly tolerated pets, though a sequence here in an apparently legal doggy park rather confuses the issue.)
Prone to following any person who seems friendly, Paat ends up in the company of successive troubled souls: a young woman being pressured to have an abortion by her married older lover; another woman who considers selling her kidney to pay for a sickly son’s surgery; two junkies who have a violent falling out in a desolate area on the city’s outskirts; and so forth. These blackout-separated vignettes are staged and acted with effective directness, even if sometimes they stretch the concept a bit. (More than once we hear dialogue between characters who don’t seem to be particularly in Paat’s vicinity.)
While dogs may not be welcome in this culture, the long-haired German Shepherd billed as “Boby” fulfills one invaluable staple movie-star function here, being such a handsome fella that he largely sustains narrative involvement simply by being so pleasant to look at. Lensing, like all other tech/design contributions here, makes an attractive virtue of simplicity.