At Cannes: No One Knows About the Persian Cats
Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi's returns to the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes this year with the splendid, though unfortunately titled No One Knows About the Persian Cats. His last showing at the festival was in 2002 with Half Moon, and judging by the positive reception, it's clear he's gaining traction among critics and festival-goers. This reception certainly wasn't hindered by the news that unfolded last week about Roxana Saberi, the Iranian journalist who was recently released from an Iranian prison. Aside from her journalistic duties, she also was a co-writer of the script.
The narrative film takes a piercing, but wholly unsentimental or sappy look at the punishing daily struggles of two young musicians — Neger, a twentysomething bearded hipster and the bespectacled, sexy Ashkan — who desperately attempt to form a band and take it abroad to play live shows. The duo's musical taste doesn't mesh with typical Iranian music, however; they belt out exquisite indie rock — sung in English mostly. They hang out with like-minded underground musicians, and the film eventually paints a gripping portrait of the rising youth struggle with an oppressive theocratic regime. Some of the scenes of the kids wearing CBGB t-shirts, hanging out in their apartment with an Arctic Monkeys poster on the wall might make you think you're peering into an East Village apartment.
The two eventually form their band, but they realize in modern-day Iran getting a visa or passport for such a venture is impossible. So they enlist the help of Hamed, a manic, passionate and hilarious cohort who attempts to get passports for them from the black market. With excellent music throughout, the film almost takes on a documentary feel.
Although it's early in the festival, it's one of the best films so far. Rating (out of 10): 8