NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS (IFC Films)
STARS > Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad, Hamed Behdad
DIRECTOR > Bahman Ghobadi
RATING > [3.5/5]
OPENS > APRIL 23
You think some of the bands featured in AP have problems? The musicians in No One Knows About Persian Cats can’t play in public in their homeland of Iran. They record in underground bunkers, away from the vigilant ears of the police. They rehearse in hidden homemade shacks and in the barns of remote dairy farms. As writer-director Bahman Ghobadi explains, “In the eyes of Islam, music is impure, giving rise as it can to cheerfulness and joy. For the last 30 years in Iran, certain music, and in particular Western music, has been virtually forbidden by the authorities.”
Featuring recordings and performances from clandestine Iranian rock groups, heavy metal bands, rappers and world music acts, No One Knows About Persian Cats follows the trials and tribulations of a young Iranian musician couple, Negar (Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Koshanejad)-in real life, the duo play under the name Take It Easy Hospital-as they crisscross the chaotic streets of Tehran trying to secure the passports, visas, permits and backing band they need to play a show in London in a week’s time. They’re aided in their quest by a fast-talking hustler named Nadar (Behdad), who hauls them across the city on his trusty motorbike to meet passport counterfeiters and potential musical recruits. As the days tick by and the tension mounts, Negar and Ashkan make just enough progress to keep hope alive as tragedy looms on the horizon.
At its heart, No One Knows About Persian Cats serves as a stark reminder of so many of the things the Western world takes for granted-in particular the enjoyment of music-but moreover it depicts a level of dedication that just isn’t required of 99 percent of the musicians whose work we enjoy on a daily basis. In fact, the film itself is a reflection of that dedication. It was shot guerilla-style, without a permit, in just 17 days. Between the lack of state-sanctioned paperwork and the forbidden subject matter, Ghobadi and his crew were arrested twice during the shoot, only convincing the police to let them go by plying them with DVDs of his previous films, like A Time For Drunken Horses (2000) and Half Moon (2006). That the Persian Cats script was co-written by American journalist Roxana Saberi (Ghobadi’s fiancee) is not lost in the film’s appraisal of Iranian oppression. Saberi recently spent months in an Iranian prison after being falsely accused of espionage, and was only released in May 2009 after an international uproar. Thus far, most of the musicians depicted in the film have had no such luck extricating themselves from beneath their government’s draconian heel. --J. Bennett
For a chance to win a copy of the soundtrack to No One Knows About Persian Cats, check out AP’s contest page.