No One Knows About Persian Cats Review: Tunes From Tehran
Bahman Ghobadi is known for his unflinching manner when it comes to dealing with pertinent issues such as marginalisation and persecution. His previous films have dealt with such matters expertly, leaving the director with many accolades. With No One Knows About Persian Cats, Ghobadi turns his perceptive eye to the Iranian music scene with a film that is charming and showcases some realistic acting, but only sporadically arrests the viewer.
Negar Shaghaghi, and Ashkan Koshanejad have just been released from prison and have an unwavering passion to fine-tune their musical capabilities and take them to Europe. However, whilst recruiting like-minded enthusiasts, they must attempt to bypass the authorities – seeking to obtain fake passports, and fashion makeshift gig venues. It is this early dilemma which gives us the simple two-stranded plot – the hidden relationships of the musicians, and the oppressive culture of Tehran they seek to eschew.
What is prevalent and most endearing about this film, is the theme of music behind closed doors. The characters burrow away in self-made shacks and huts playing to themselves and their friends. This narrative construct sets up the catchy and uplifting soundtrack, with music cutaways that are well spliced with scenes of the outside Tehran. Despite these moments being the film’s raison d’etre, some of the music scenes are unfortunately cringe-worthy and rather hackneyed, which doesn’t do the realism and likability of the actors justice.
Characters are developed well – we feel genuine sympathy when the passport fraudster Nedar is arrested – and the Tehran music scene is showcased eclectically (we are privy to genuinely good snippets of techno, indie-rock and folk). However, although the characters and their situation demand pathos and plausibility, I was left pining for a few more twists and turns with more plot development. Ghobadi seems caught between an attempt at an urban documentary, and a fluid fictional narrative. He doesn’t quite achieve either.
The ending of Persian Cats is a shocking and moving finale to a film that previously does not show promise of lingering set-pieces. What Ghobadi lacks in a sustaining narrative, however, he partly makes up for in his portrayal of the Iranian music scene. It is a placid, cool and creative force opposed to the hectic and altering Iranian culture, with its busy streets and brutal authorities.