Lauded at Cannes and other film festivals, No One Knows About Persian Cats by director Bahman Ghobadi (also director of A Time for Drunken Horses) has literally struck chords around the world. Despite being originally released in May of 2009, perhaps in time for Iran's national elections, the film is only now making rounds in Britain. On 31 March the movie played at the Cine Lumiere with a question and answer session as well as music by the film's stars, Ashkan Koshenejad and Negar Shaghaghi.
The story is set in Tehran, and focuses on Ashkan and Negar attempts to form a band to play a concert in London as well as acquiring fake travel documents to make the journey. Each play themselves in a story less about two young musicians than about censorship and frustration in modern Iran. 'You can't make music here or say what you want,' says Negar in the film. While there is no explicit political criticism, or discussion of religion, there is an abundance of music and resistance throughout the film.
Shot in 17 days, the movie is a brilliant exhibition of Iran's underground music scene. Since most of the story involves waiting for illegal travel documents and finding band members, we are treated to a generous display of bands and musical talent from a wide variety of genres. Heavy metal, hip-hop, indie rock, the blues vie for space throughout.
The film is perhaps best described as creative non-fiction and was made without professional actors, and 'people chose to be a part of the movie despite the risk,' says Negar, because they were frustrated. Ashkan said he 'wanted to show the world what was happening in Iran.'
In the decidedly less serious Hollywood film School of Rock, one character, Dewey Finn, says 'Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I'm out there on the front lines liberating people with my music.' Had he lived in Iran, that could well have been rather closer to the truth.
No One Knows About Persian Cats is at the Cine Lumiere 9-15 April 2010 and at selected other cinemas around the country.