Film review: No One Knows About Persian Cats (MFF 2010)

No One Knows About Persian Cats
Mij Film, Mitosfilm

STARRING Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Kooshanejad, Hamed Behdad
WRITTEN BY Bahman Ghobadi, Hossein Mortezaeiyan, Roxana Saberi
PRODUCED BY Bahman Ghobadi
DIRECTED BY Bahman Ghobadi

SHOT BY Turaj Aslani
EDITED BY Haydeh Safi-Yari
MUSIC BY Ash Koosha, Mahdyar Aghajani

Screened at Milwaukee Film Festival, 2010-10-02

Winner of the Special Jury Prize, Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival 2009.

This filmgoer was hoping to learn a bit about Iran, and Persian Cats provided a nice little primer for him. Within the throng of Tehran, two young musicians set out to form a band, form a sound, and really, just tour outside Iran. They want to return – they just want to play music and travel. And it is alarmingly difficult. From the start, any progress one wishes to make must be handled through the black market, unless (I’m paraphrasing) you’d prefer to wait three years at the censorship office for a permit to play music in public, and after that you’d have to find two more women just to be in the band since a lone woman is not allowed to sing by herself (and this method only makes it nominally simpler, as black market passports and visas run the five-member band a US equivalent of $24,000). So from here, the terribly cute young Iranian girl and her probably-as-attractive male counterpart team up with an über-producer friend to go on an Ocean’s-style recruiting mission (“The Music Job”) all over Tehran to find the three future bandmates, while in the meantime developing a sound, rehearsing for their show, and praying that the money comes in when their passports do. Their producer friend is a dopily charming, fast-talking schmoozer who is all things at any given moment, any things any person around him needs him to be, and whose side business is bootlegging DVDs. He loves American films and movie stars. He’s fun to watch. He stands on a rocky crag overlooking the sprawl of Tehran (is there another way to view it..?) and spells it all out for us at a mile a minute.

The inherently youthful film is dense with improvisational camerawork, dialogue, and info. Not necessarily mind-blowing, but it kept my interest and that’s the point. Tons of slow shutter. Each segment of band’s quest is bookmarked by a mini music video which showcases a niche of Iranian music. For instance, we are treated iterations of Iranian jazz, heavy metal, black metal, Strokes-type music (not sure how to categorize that – 20-year-old cocaine-infused fun careless dancey crap?), rap and rave trance. As I said earlier, for a filmgoer who wants to learn about Iranian culture, this is pretty much precisely designed to be didactic, specifically to one who knows virtually nothing about the scene – because if one was informed, this stuff would be awfully superfluous. On that note I will say that the film is enjoyable for those outside of Iran, and inside I’d imagine is only useful for 20-year-old’s. Which is fine. These poor frustrated kids try their best and its quite nice to watch them get it 2getha – for the most part – so that they can achieve their young musician dreams of, for example, traveling to Iceland to see Sigur Rós. Oh, you 20-year-olds. The film would appear to be a tale of youthful Iranian voices discovering, with difficultly, expression. This modern age will shake off the shackles of the past, but it may take longer than we’d like to admit.

written by David Ashley