No One Knows About Persian Cats


Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Year: 2009
Rating: 8.0
Country: Iran

I have been watching a bunch of music related films as is this one but No One Knows About Persian Cats comes with quite a difference. It is Iranian and shot without official permission from the government and delves into the underground music scene in Tehran. It is extraordinarily courageous in ways we don't fully understand. Rock and rap music are banned in Iran as are many of the activities that take place in this film. For people to make this film and to act in it is a risky choice in an authoritarian theocracy where the distance between freedom and jail or lashes of the whip can disappear in a moment. In fact, the author of this script and the fiancée of the director was arrested as a spy and spent two years in jail. The director is Bahman Ghobadi, another one of the Iranian New Age directors who are always butting heads with government censorship often having their films shown primarily in International Film Festivals rather than appearing in Iran. This film was most definitely banned in Iran. It is a marvelous film.

Shot in guerilla fashion, hand held with abrupt cuts it is constantly on the move perhaps to give the film a dynamic youthful feeling but also perhaps because they had no choice but to keep moving to different set-ups. Ashkan and Negar are a male-female Indie-rock duo who are looking to get out of Iran to play a concert in London where they have been invited. But they need visas, passports and a band. They run across Nader, a fast talking hustler perhaps conman who is into everything and seemingly knows everyone who is on the fringes of illegality. He knows someone who can get them passports and visas, he knows someone who can get them a permit to play in Iran, he knows various musicians who possibly can come with them to London.

The three of them begin a fascinating journey into the underground scene of music where musicians have to practice in out of the way places where they will not be heard - a barn, abandoned buildings, on top of a building under construction, basements and so forth. And in this journey we get to listen to a lot of music from rock to heavy metal to rap to traditional. And most of it is really good. These scenes turn into music videos in a sense - the rap one in particular - but Ghobadi uses his camera to film slices of life in Tehran to the music - some of it simple everyday scenes, other times showing abject poverty and misery. These scenes have a purpose. The cinematography is sharp and quick - often catching just a moment in time and cutting to something else - but it gives you Tehran, which all the characters love - the government not so much.

Ghobadi reveals the cracks in this authoritarian society - the cruelty as in one scene where the couple are pulled over by a cop because they have an unclean animal in their car - a dog - forbidden and what happens to the dog offscreen is pretty awful - but also just the way citizens have learned to navigate this world they live in but are always in fear of the sound of a siren pulling up to their house. In an American film this would all end happily but this isn't America.