Mark Reviews Movies

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Bahman Ghobadi

Cast: Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad, Hamed Behdad

MPAA Rating: No Rating

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 4/16/10 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 29, 2010

The title is so strange, such a seeming non sequitur, that it demands inspection. There are cats in one short moment of No One Knows About Persian Cats. They are abandoned kittens, and a mother that lost her litter. She cares for them as though they are her own.

In a similar way, then, we have the musicians that populate the film. Their parents are nowhere to be seen. One shuts off the power in the building when his son and his band are practicing in a shed on the roof, trying to deter the noise from attracting police attention. One of the leads wants her family to see her perform before she leaves for a show in London. They have never seen her play in front of an audience. The male lead's father is dead in an unstated conflict (most likely the Iran-Iraq War), and his mother is in Germany, wiring money to him so he can pay for counterfeit documents for himself and his band members to leave the country.

This is the underground music scene of Tehran, Iran, where musical expression, like so much else there, is not a right. It is a privilege only afforded to those with a government-issued permit to do so. Yes, musicians can perform for an audience, but the music must first be deemed appropriate for listening in the Islamic republic by a board. Some money might help get that permit, but without it, musicians can expect to spend some time in jail.

Out of this oppression of free expression, the musicians of No One Knows About Persian Cats have formed an almost familial bond. There is no competition for an audience. Their musical stylings make no impact on the artists they support. A drummer might be playing with one band one week and another the next, more than likely because the band broke up after going to prison together. Some want to leave just for the opportunity to play, and most of those want to return home afterward.

That is the strength of their surrogate family. Success for one is a victory for the lot, and abandoning these kindred souls is not an option, no matter the opportunity.

Two kids, played by Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad as characters with the same first names (The film is based on "real events, locations, and people," and definitely feels that way), have the chance to play a show in London. They are, however, without a passport or visa.

For help, they find Nader (Hamed Behdad), a smooth- and fast-talking manager who knows every musical artist in the city and has a business relationship with any that wants to make something of himself or herself.

Negar has money coming to him from his mother and wants to use it to buy fake passports or visas for himself, Ashkan, and their band-mates (Once they find some). Ashkan's first priority is to set up a show in Tehran. She wants their family and friends to see them perform.

Nader assures them that he can get forged documentation and a permit to play locally.

Director Bahman Ghobadi displays an intimate connection to this world—the players, the connections, the hardships, and the perils. Negar and Ashkan are naïve about the process, and what starts off a relatively simple plan becomes complicated as Nader starts to inform them of the reality.

He might know the person who can get them a passport, but they are not cheap (Unless one is looking for a visa into Iraq, which will only cost the equivalent of five US dollars). Add this up across the two of them, a drummer, a guitarist, and a bassist, and the cost skyrockets. Plus, as Nader tells them, there is no way the government will allow a band to play with only one female. They'll need at least one more, but three would be even better. Besides, the acquisition is entirely illegal.

A permit to perform in the city appears a reasonable request, but one band, which avoids politics in their music entirely, cannot obtain one. Nader, loyal as he may be, finds himself on the wrong side of the law for possessing pirated American movies (Which part of that is worse in the eyes of the agent questioning him is uncertain). Even though he can skillfully talk his way out of corporal punishment and into a reduced fine, his leverage isn't the best.

The kids search for people to join their band, and Ghobadi shows us a metal band forced to play in a barn full of cows, a rapper shooting a music video in at a construction site, and those other kids in the shack on the roof, watching for their neighbor across the street to leave so he won't call the cops again.

The soundtrack is an eclectic blend, although the musical sequences, which intercut the performance with montages of life in the city, don't have the same honesty as Negar, Ashkan, and Nader's hunt.

No One Knows About Persian Cats moves forward with a carefree appreciation for music and the people who make it, and all the while, bitter reality is waiting in the background, waiting to take over.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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