No One Knows About Persian Cats

106 minutes

Music has brought the best out of Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi - first with 2006's Half Moon, his boisterous but ultimately wistful entry in the Mozart-inspired New Crowned Hope project, now with this engaging if flawed fiction/documentary hybrid about the Teheran musical underground. At heart, mr. Ghobadi's film is an introduction to the wealth of talent hiding beneath the surface of the Islamic Republic, from angular speed metal bands to punchy rappers to traditional folk singers denied any public performance just for being women, shot in fleeting, stolen moments using a small digital camera. But this whistle-stop tour is wrapped in a thin veneer of fiction that follows indie-rock duo Negar and Ashkan (Negar Shagaghi and Ashkan Kooshanejad, playing fictionalised versions of themselves) over three weeks as they try to put together like-minded musicians willing to travel to London with them.
     The seemingly improvised fiction does reveal an entirely new face of Teheran (arguably the closest we've been here since imprisoned director Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold), but despite the forceful message of resistance it's clear both strands of No One Knows About Persian Cats don't quite gel together. The far too obvious music video approach and lax structure of the documentary angle can grow repetitive; and mr. Ghobadi missteps horribly with a melodramatic finale that seems pasted in as either a concession to an eventual domestic release for his film or an abrupt reminder of the disproportionately high stakes Iranian musicians face in trying to start a career. This ill-advised conclusion drains away the film's hopeful optimism, though it thankfully doesn't diminish the potency and energy of what has come before.

Starring Negar Shagaghi, Ashkan Kooshanejad, Hamed Behdad.
     Director, producer and art director, Bahman Ghobadi; written by mr. Ghobadi, Hossein M. Ashenaj, Roxana Saberi; director of photography (colour, widescreen, Cinechromatix processing), Touraj Aslani; film editor, Hayedeh Safiyari; musical sequences edited by Farbad Koshtinat, ms. Safiyari.
     A Mij Film production; co-producer, Mitosfilm. (French distributor, Mars Distribution. US distributor, IFC Films. World sales, Wild Bunch.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), May 12th 2011. 


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