No One Knows About Persian Cats

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No One Knows About Persian Cats

Americans take it for granted that, assuming we know four chords (and the truth), we could plausibly become rock stars. The struggling Springsteens and Strokes fanatics in Bahman Ghobadi’s look at Tehran’s termitelike music scene don’t have it as easy; the authorities treat anyone with a Stratocaster like a criminal suspect. If you’re as lucky as the young singer-songwriter duo Negar (Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Koshanejad) and get a gig in London, you’ll have to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops to play abroad. (That Ashkan is female only adds to the red-tape pileup.) A fast-talking hustler (Behdad) takes them under his wing, introducing them to fellow “revolutionaries” and helping them buy black-market passports. Meanwhile, the creative suppression continues: “We sing underground,” laments one Jay-Z wanna-be, “[and] the sound won’t go past the floor.”

Having previously favored the poetic pastoralism of most modern Iranian cinema (see A Time for Drunken Horses), Ghobadi opts for a funky-urban feel here, allowing viewers a glimpse of the city’s regional interpretations of blues, rap, metal and Pitchfork-approved indie rock. The sheer ecstasy of expression in these performances gives the movie a pulse, though the director’s abuse of MTV aesthetics—quick cuts, skewed angles, generic shots of city life—turns what should be lyrical interludes into karaoke background videos. These artists are risking everything by playing Western-influenced music; that Ghobadi cheapens and cheeses up their subversion with Hollywood tricks makes for a seriously bitter irony.—David Fear

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