STARRING Negar Sheghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad, Hamed Behdad DIRECTED BY Bahman Ghobadi SCREENPLAY Bahman Ghobadi, Roxana Saberi, Hosein M. Abkenar MPAA RATING NR RUNNING TIME 106 Films DISTRIBUTED BY IFC Films
"No One Knows About Persian Cats" Review
Co-written by imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, No One Knows About Persian Cats is a faux documentary indictment of cultural repression in Iran amidst a closeted yet lively and vibrant underground music scene led by those who continue to strive for personal and artistic freedom in a society where such protests can and do lead to harsh punishment, imprisonment and even death.
It is said that over 2,000 bands operate covertly in Tehran alone, playing discreetly in apartments, on rooftops and virtually anywhere they can with the risk of being caught always at the forefront. Winner of the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009, No One Knows About Persian Cats was shot in 17 days without the appropriate permits and without government approval. The crew was jailed twice during those 17 days, yet it is astounding the exuberance and excitement that co-writer and director Bahman Ghobadi brings to the screen.
While not an overtly political film and without direct criticism of the Iranian regime, the overwhelming air of repression hangs over the film and is, perhaps, even more effective than if the director had chosen to use the film as a directly rebellious tool of artistic expression.
The film centers around an indie rock singer (Negar Shaghaghi) and her appears to be boyfriend (Ashkan Koshanejad), who travel around Tehran looking for bandmates with plans to escape to Europe to play their rock n' roll. The people that they encounter are the types of folks one would encounter in any American city with an indie music scene ranging from young folk singers to heavy metal headbangers and even an urban Tehran rapper rapping about, you guessed it, life in "the hood."
While the music contained in No One Knows About Persian Cats isn't likely to be knocking on the door of the American music scene any time soon, what sells the film is the underground feeling and the overwhelming commitment these young people have to their music, their creativity and their artistic expression. After all, while American filmmakers certainly do face their own challenges how often do those challenges include constant threats of arrest, abuse and/or imprisonment?
Heck, the U.S. even made William Hung a star.
While the film is technically a faux documentary, it is essentially really Iranian musicians playing variations of themselves in situations that most of them have actually experienced. While the scenes that unfold may not be technically true, their authenticity feels true and rings true as the film unfolds. Ghobadi, an Iranian Kurd who also directed Turtles Can Fly, co-wrote the film with his fiancee' Roxana Saberi, who was imprisoned briefly by Iran and convicted of spying for the U.S. before having her eight-year sentence commuted under international pressure. The two are clearly sympathetic to their musical subjects, though one can't help but wish they'd spent a tad more time exploring the characters involved rather than creating what amounts to a bit too many musical montages.
The film is loosely structured, mostly out of necessity given the constraints of filming under constant threat, but this gives the film a sense of unpredictability and a free spirit.
Currently on the festival and arthouse circuit, No One Knows About Persian Cats is being distributed by IFC Films and will be released on home video following its indie run.