Wednesday, February 10, 2010
No One Knows About Persian Cats
No One Knows About Persian Cats is the most exciting music movie I've seen since Wild Zero. Directed by Bahman Ghobadi (Turtles Can Fly) and co-written with his fiance, the journalist Roxana Saberi, it is not a documentary but a fictionalized portrait of Iran's hidden musicians, who must record and perform illegally. The film finds a unique way of blending fact and fiction, however, because the the actors are musicians playing themselves. This way, Ghobadi allows them to tell their own stories while also smuggling their music out to a wider audience.
In the film, real-life indie rockers Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad want to get a band together for a gig in London. But, because of the restrictions placed on musicians by the Iranian government, they're forced to go about it like two drug runners. They cautiously feel out other musicians and struggle to secure false passports. As their enterprise leads them through alleys and across the rooftops of Tehran, they introduce the viewer to a cross-section of Iran's truly underground music scenes. Transcendent performances are showcased in living rooms, open fields, and even cow sheds. So that no moment is wasted, each musical interlude is cut with dizzying scenes of life in the city.
The soundtrack includes songs in both English and Farsi and gives voice to emcees, indie rockers, traditional musicians, and one metal band. The driving "Human Jungle" by Take It Easy Hospital becomes the film's haunting theme and a fitting rallying cry for repressed artists. The soundtrack is already a bestseller in Europe. (The film itself won the Un Certain Regard Prize at Cannes.)
Watching the movie, I rooted for the both characters in the story and the actors whose real lives were being portrayed. It is exhilarating and disturbing to watch a film about events that are in fact present tense. And then, well, the whole idea of a film shot in secret, starring secret rock stars just makes my hipster bone tingle. I mean, talk about dangerous art. Obviously, filming the movie wasn't exactly cleared with the authorities.
But, apart from being dangerous, it is great art too. Ghobadi creates genuine suspense, even as he inspires genuine outrage.
Most of all, No One Knows About Persian Cats left me hungry to hear more about indie music from beyond American shores. So far, SPIN Earth has been my best online resource. There is a page for Tehran, but much of the posting there, understandably, is more about political turmoil than rock 'n' roll. Does anyone have more resources for me? Zines? Blogs? Maximum Rocknroll hooks it up once in awhile, but their scope is obviously limited to punk and hardcore.
The soundtrack is out April 16th, the same day the film opens in New York.