No One Knows About Persian Cats
Details: (PG), 106 mins, Iran,
Synopsis: Filmed illegally in the Iranian city of Tehran, No One Knows About Persian Cats ventures into the underground world of Iran's illicit music scene. Lurking on the margins of the city are rappers, metal bands and indie rockers – all playing music banned under Iranian law, but flourishing in underground venues and makeshift rehearsal spaces. Filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi uses guerrilla documentary tactics to follow the story of Negar and Ashkan, two musicians trying to get the band mates and paperwork they need for an upcoming gig in London.
The kids aren’t all right.
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The aftermath of the July presidential elections showed the world how civil unrest is dealt with in Iran, so it's little surprise that knowledge of Persian cats like those depicted in Bahman Ghobadi’s film has been non-existent until now. Kurdish/Iranian Ghobadi paints a specific picture of civil defiance, from the view of the underground – and thriving – music scene in the capital; he packages a tense expose of the infringement of civil liberties in contemporary Iran into a palatable faux-documentary about an indie rock band’s efforts to flee the country.
The man behind rural dramas such as Turtles Can Fly and A Time for Drunken Horses relocates to the capital this time around, for a slice of gritty urban life, where censorship is rife and authoritarian intimidation is a daily occurrence.
The film’s central characters are likeable, softly-spoken musicians Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad), two friends who love their indie rock but are fed up with the persecution that comes with it on home soil. An upcoming gig in London provides the impetus for departure; a studio engineer hooks them up with a smooth-talking bootlegger-cum-broker Nader (Hamed Behdad), who agrees to help the duo when it’s clear their motives are all about the music. He helps them with their mission to recruit additional band members and source the necessary passports and exit documents from a thriving black market – but not before “one last gig” on home soil, to give their parents a chance to see the kids rock out.
Iranian musicians from a broad range of genres provide cameos and their music features prominently in the film’s soundtrack, complete with quick-cuts to reinforce the music video feel. The lyrics – in both English and Farsi – speak volumes about the frustration and restlessness felt by the kids in Iran.
The thin storyline (co-penned by imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi) weaves in and around the backstreets of Tehran, literally, as Nader’s motorcycle facilitates Negar and Ashkan’s visits to fellow musos in makeshift studios, rehearsal spaces and venues. The threat of daily persecution is palpable – authorities appear in the background and are referenced frequently – but there’s some levity as well, including a scene in which a metal band drives the cows to distraction in an impromptu gig on the guitarist’s father’s farm.
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