Movie Review: No One Knows About Persian Cats
In an attempt to wipe the slate clean-slash-lower my various chemical tolerances, I am currently abstaining from coffee, booze, sugar and just about anything else worth digesting. With this "cleanse" comes a certain level of manufactured self-pity that I feel entitled to drag around with me like a tacky diaper bag. As I plopped down into the cushy theater seat and unloaded my ammo -- two oranges, one banana and one orange and banana fruit juice -- I opened up my press kit and the internal dialogue began: "Ah, I'm so hungry and weak and the traffic was so bad but it's only going to be worse once the screening's over. Uh, and what's this? A foreign movie! Iran? Oy, i don't need this shit. I already listened to NPR on the morning commute. Besides I'm too frail to read subtitles right now!" Yep, I had already decided that the film, Bahman Ghobadi's latest immersion in Iranian subculture, No One Knows About Persion Cats wasn't going to do it for me. I was going to eat my various food supplements, utilize the plush bathroom situation, and simply ride it out until the traffic heading eastbound on Sunset cleared.
My stomach growling grew louder as the theater lights dimmed, giving way to the start of something happening up there on the big screen. The credit sequence began -- quick snapshots of Tehran city life paired with blasting contemporary local Iranian indie rock music. It seemed so far away and yet so close to home. Clearly this wasn't going to be the dreary foreign film I'd already written off. By the time the two protagonists were introduced, I was still searching through my bottomless purse for a piece of gum, an orange, some tree bark or anything that could help satiate me. And then, halfway through my second pack of gum, something happened. It's just about the coolest thing any of us can hope for when blindly walking into a movie; I truly got lost in it.
No One Knows About Persion Cats follows Negar and Ashkan, two young indie musicians, on their mission to form a band in order to get a gig in Europe and escape Iranian artistic suppression. With help from their mischievous friend Nadar, they trek around the city auditioning different bands. Like its counterpart -- the neo-indie musical gem Once -- the film relies heavily on its soundtrack to convey its most important connections, conversations, and themes. And, oh, what a soundtrack it is! There are half a dozen music video-type montages showcasing the city. They serve as a breath of fresh air in between the often despondent music-less moments.
Although I often enjoy my movies' metaphors hidden below the surface, I tend to raise the bar a bit higher for movies made oceans away. The characters in No One Knows About Persion Cats are definitely struggling, but there is not enough back story to truly understand why or how high the stakes are in their struggle. For example, Negar and Ashkan spend a chunk the film trying to locate a rehearsal space for their band where their neighbors won't call the cops or their parent's won't turn off the power -- the problems garage bands face on every continent. All local bands have to worry about "the man" shutting them down. Maybe my own ignorance is to blame, but when I'm seeing a film about a land far, far away, I'd like to be not only entertained but also educated about the world I'm being given the privilege to examine. I want to escape, sure, but not turn off my brain. More back story in this story would connect me more to these characters and their situation.
As the credits began to roll -- and yet another killer song came cutting through the screen -- I sat amongst my various peels and wrappers legitimately not able to get up. I was overcome with a feeling in my stomach -- and for once this week it was not hunger. This movie didn't just touch me, it bruised me a little too. I did not feel like I was given a chance to truly know the characters because they were not given a chance to know themselves. No One Knows about Persian Cats is a classic example of the modern musical film. The music served as the subversive narrator and like any great album, I believe this film will truly reach its peak after multiple viewings.
No One Knows About Persian Cats opens tomorrow in Los Angeles
Review by Jessie Kahnweiler