Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS; the FSLC hosts Ghobadi retrospective

Wednesday and Thursday, April 14-15, Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi gets a sleek two-day retrospective at the Walter Reade Theater, via the Film Society of Lincoln Center, of the five films he's given us so far, beginning with an advance screening of NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS, his latest film, which will open theatrically this Friday via IFC. (You can see the entire FSLC program, with films, dates and times here.)  Both Ghobadi and his co-writer, jour-
nalist Roxana Saberi, will be at the WRT for this screening.

It's an odd thing, initially, to see Mr. Ghobadi (shown at left) working in the big city, because all his other films have taken place in, around or between remote villages. And his urban Iran seems nothing like that we've seen from Majid Majidi in The Song of Sparrows or any of the many films of Kiarostami. This is a home to a younger, music-oriented crowd, who spends its life not, unfortunately, making music but simply trying to make it, given the prescriptive government restrictions on, well, almost everything, it seems. 

So the kids make their music in barnyards -- on a dairy farm in which the cows have stopped giving milk, due to the noisy rock music, and from which one band member seems to have acquired hepatitis.  They use rooftops and basements, soundproofing them as best they can.  Further, the film's leading twosome -- a young woman and a young man -- are also trying to obtain forged passports so that they can leave the country to perform abroad.  None of these is easy, and all of it, of course, would be prevented by Iran's government and police -- if they only knew about it.

"Persian Cats" is full of music, in bits and pieces and sometimes full-length numbers -- one of which leans toward the Bollywood style, and the best of which (and I cannot believe I am saying this, given my aversion to rap) is a rap song directed toward... god.   The movie grows on you, accumulating power, even as these kids' situation grows worse.  And Ghobadi's style (the film is narrative, though it looks like a documentary) will have you believing that all (anyway, most) of this is real. When their friend and co-conspirator Nader is arrested, we are privy to a wonderful scene in which the young man pleads/guilts his way out of trouble.  And in what will prove to many Americans the most surprising -- even ridiculous -- scene, the twosome is stopped in their car by the police.  While the reason for their detention will be difficult to countenance -- the result proves even worse.

Finally, the movie reminded me in some ways of our own home-grown "protest" films of the 60s and 70s -- full of life, music and sadness. It is a lovely, unsettling addition to Mr. Ghobadi's oeuvre.

No One Knows About Persian Cats opens its theatrical run at the IFC Center this Friday, April 16, and is available now On-Demand from most TV reception providers.  To check its availability in your area, simply click here and follow instructions.

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