Friday, April 8, 2011
NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS
It is no wonder that Bahman Ghobadi’s award-winning (Cannes) and beautiful homage to the underground music scene in Tehran, No One Knows About Persian Cats, was banned from Iranian movie screens. If I were a fundamentalist cleric there, I too would fear the message this wonderful story about two young Iranians seeking to gather a band (Take It Easy Hospital) and obtain visas to play a concert in Europe (if not completely escape the oppression against the arts, and generally live a freer life). Ghobadi lovingly and humorously pokes fun at the truly terrible (and often frightening) realities of police and basij suppression of expression and freedom in Iran. Two scenes stand out: when Nader, the somewhat shifty, unreliable, yet enthusiatic music-lover and “fixer” who wants to be the manager of the group (played well by Hamed Behdad), is grilled by an official censor after thousands of dvds (and some alcohol) are confiscated from his apartment, and he humorously (and successfully) defends his case; and when the two protagonists, played by real-life artists Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, are stopped in their car because local thugs want to check the cleanliness of their pet dog (her yelp as the dog is dragged through the window was unnerving and totally convincing). Using a small crew and modern technology, Ghobadi followed the intrepid pair of aspiring musicians as they seek additions to their band. Their aspiring manager takes them to many secret locations—ranging from soundproofed cellars to ramshackle additions on rooftops, dairy barns to open fields—and in the process the viewer is introduced to a startling diversity of musical genres and sounds in the process (jazz, indie rock, heavy metal, traditional, even rap). I will try to buy the soundtrack cd, that's how impressed I was. I was stunned and pleased with the quality and variety of the music (perhaps I should have been embarrassed as well to not have expected there to be so many divergent voices). Since I am not an authority on Iranian music, I suspect some of these performers had some sanctions against them within Iran (and I wouldn't be surprised if many have alreeady fled); their appearances in the film must have come at a high level of bravery and danger to themselves. Another strong scene is when the pair is frustrated when they seek illegal assistance from a Mafia-looking pair who promise to provide them with fake official papers. What shines through most in this movie is the recognition that the urge to create (and this extends to the whole spectrum of artistic endeavors) cannot be contained by thugs in the end. What was also surprising, though, was the almost good natured way that victims of oppression accepted the challenges of playing their music and laughed in the face or danger. Thank God/Allah for rebellion. Thanks as well to brave movie makers and musicians who provided and entertaining, critical movie. I enthusiastically encourage people to check out this movie.