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No One Knows About Persian Cats

Posted by martinteller on May 12, 2013

Negar (Negar Shaghagdi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) are an indie rock duo known as “Take It Easy Hospital”.  Both are recently released from prison and trying to get to London to play a concert.  Their bandmates have split up, so they need to find new musicians.  They also need passports and visas.  Enter Nader (Hamed Behdad), a fast-talking bootleg DVD salesman with a lot of connections.  He hooks them up with someone who can get counterfeit papers, and also introduces them to several local musicans.

As is common in Iranian cinema, there’s a blurry line here between movie and reality.  Take It Easy Hospital is a real band, Negar and Ashkan are the real members, and the film is based on their real experiences.  How much of it comes from true events, I can’t say.  But it speaks to the cultural oppression in Iran.  There are strict rules for artistic expression… no anti-Muslim sentiments, nothing that violates their moral code.  Women can’t even sing alone.  These are underground bands.  In many cases, literally underground as their practice spaces are hidden in deep basement levels.  Cops are a constant threat.

There is a fine variety of music showcased in the film.  I suppose having been exposed to enough Iranian cinema to know better, I shouldn’t be surprised to hear so much music with a Western influence, but I was surprised nonetheless.  In the film we hear Tehran musicians doing indie rock, metal, rap, traditional Iranian music, EDM, world music, folk, sensitive singer/songwriter stuff, lounge music, new wave, fusion jam band, grungy hard rock, and some jazzy-bluesy thing that kinda sounds like Tom Waits.  And you know what?  It’s not bad.  Some of it is rather cheesy, but a lot of it I really liked, especially Take It Easy Hospital.  And they look like any number of indie bands I know, except for Negar’s chador.

There’s a lot of charm and rebellious spirit in the film.  And humor, too… a scene where Nader tries to talk the police out of a hefty fine and 75 lashes for hawking his bootleg movies (and carrying alcohol) is really funny.  The story is thin, but it’s more an exploration of this underground scene, the hurdles they have to jump through, and the oppression of their music.  However, one thing really bothered me.  For many of the songs, the music is accompanied by montages of Tehran street scenes.  Once or twice would have been good.  I didn’t count, but there had to be seven or eight of them.  It got to feel really generic and stale very fast, like music videos directed by someone with only one idea and no imagination.

On the whole, I liked this a lot more than Ghobadi’s heavy-handed debut feature, A Time for Drunken Horses.  But there’s still a subtlety and grace missing in his work.  Still, the personalities of Negar, Ashkan and Nader go a long way, as does the enthusiasm for their musical rebellion.  And the film has a wonderful title.  Rating: Good (70)


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