No One Knows About Persian Cats

No One Knows About Persian Cats


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Being a musician is always considered a tough gig, but for would-be songwriters in Iran it's a much more serious business than just getting your music out there. In fact, getting your music 'out there' could be considered an act of folly since President Mahmud Ahmadinejad outlawed "Western and decadent music" - a phrase which suggests he considers the two things to be synonymous - meaning that if you're caught, jail is a real possibility. As with most bans, however, it seems this stance merely gives many more incentive to creatively get round the restrictions.

Bahman Ghobadi's film tells the fictional story of two young musicians - Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) - who, against the odds, are attempting to assemble a band and get the correct paperwork, by any means possible, to leave the country to perform a gig in London. Not content with two impossible tasks, they aim for the hat-trick of performing a clandestine concert in their homeland before they leave. Enlisted to help them is Nader, a wideboy bootlegger and 'fixer' who never uses one word when 19 will do and who might just have the street smarts to help them realise their dreams.

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Despite this being a 'fiction', Ghobadi's plot is really little more than a device against which to document the current state of Iran for young artists. The 'story' is somewhat simplistic, but the state-of-a-nation snapshot it allows to be revealed is complex and highly emotive. Many real Persian underground musicians are present in the film, from accomplished blues singer Rana Farhan, to rap artist Hichkas (Persian for 'nobody') and up-and-coming guitarist Ash Koosha, not forgetting Ashkan and Nader themselves.

As Negar, Ashkan and Nader scurry back and forth through the streets of Tehran, from cow byres to closet recording studios, trying to assemble their band and get their hands on papers, they encounter a succession of these artists, with each given a moment in the limelight, accompanied by pop video collages of images from the streets of the city.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is, for the most part, not music concerned with political point-scoring, but simply with self-expression - the argument being made here is not for pop as protest but as a creative endeavour. There are, one character asserts early in the film, around 2000 pop groups in Iran today, not counting 'banned women', who are not allowed to sing solo. What emerges is a vibrant picture of an underground movement and an examination of a generation under incredible stress with an emotional sting in the tale. This is a love letter to them all, a clarion inistence ringing out the importance of artistic freedom and a call to the world to consider the Iranian people from the perspective of our similarities rather than our differences.

Reviewed on: 12 Mar 2010
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Fiction meets documentary in this story of underground musicians in Tehran.
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Director: Bahman Ghobadi

Writer: Bahman Ghobadi, Hossein Mortezaeiyan, Roxana Saberi

Starring: Hamed Behdad, Ashkan Koohzad, Negar Shaghaghi

Year: 2009

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Iran

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