No One Knows About Persian Cats – A Review

No One Knows About Persian Cats Poster In FrenchNo One Knows About Persian Cats is a delightful film about musicians in Iran just trying to play music they like, mostly rock, and a totalitarian state that refuses to let them. The film is ostensibly about two indie-rock musicians who are trying to put together a concert for their friends and family, and also get fake passports so they can flee the country to play a show in London. They travel around Tehran trying to put together a band and talking with different musicians in Tehran’s underground music scene. Accompanying them is a promoter who is the ultimate wheeler-dealer with a fast tongue that makes his living bootlegging alcohol, selling pirated and forbidden CDs and DVDs, and otherwise brining his black market sensibilities to the music world. The quest allows the film makers to show the great lengths the musicians have to go to play. Every time they go to a new space it is down a warren of staircases to a forgotten basement that will muffle the music and keep the police away. One metal band even plays at a dairy farm amongst the cows and hay bales. Despite these great lengths it is a world of fear and every musician has been jailed at least once for playing music. All the musicians, except for the rapper, play music that is completely apolitical and in a few cases lacks words, yet the government will not allow almost any form of rock to be played. It is the tension between the musicians simple desire and the politics is one of the primary things that makes the movie compelling.

The other thing that makes the movie so interesting is the music. Sure it is all infuenced by American and European rock and hip-hop, but that is part of the fun. And all of it is very good. There are 2 blues rock bands, one with a female singer with an great voice; 2 metal like bands that are full on hard-core with double bass drums and chorused guitars; a couple jazz jam bands; an indie-rock band; a folk singer; and a hip-hop group. All of these get a couple of minutes to play a song and while they play the film becomes a kind of rock video showing montages of Tehran and its street life. The best performance is from the rap group which performs a great song that indicts the state for the disparities in wealth in Tehran while the montage show scenes of people living on the streets. The raping style and the music are aggressive and underscore the seriousness of their critique. The female fronted blues band was also very good, but what made it even more compelling is everyone in the band was filmed out of focus, mostly likely for their own protection. It was a haunting song set to night scenes of Tehran.

The film might have a bit of the Andy Hardy series of films where Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland put on a musical in a barn, if it weren’t for the political consequences of what they are doing. It is in the political tension and the liveliness of the music that the film is at its best a is a fascinating look at Iran. Definitely worth watching, especially if you like music.

On-line Graphic Novel About Iranian Election and Aftermath

The excellent blog Arabic Literature (in English) turned me on to this site. It is a graphic novel about the aftermath of the Iranian election in 2009. Written by a Persian (American) writer, an Arab artist and a Jewish editor it and “Zahra’s Paradise weaves together a composite of real people and events.”  It comes out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in installments of one four to six page panel, which in itself I like. There is something about stories that are published serially that makes the experience of reading them interesting. There are only a few installments, so it is a little difficult to tell how good it is going to be, but a first read it is interesting. I’ll be curious to see how the art evolves, if at all during the run. I imagine it is a difficult task to create the same characters week after week in the same style.

You can start at the beginning here, or go to the most recent episode.

Zahra’s Paradise isn’t just a cemetery where the world comes to an end. It’s also a womb, a garden, where the world is reborn. Sure, Neda is dead, Sohrab is dead, Mohsen is dead, and they’re all buried in Zahra’s Paradise. But just as there is death, so there is life and light bursting out of their shadow. Their virtual reflection, wrapped as fictional characters, allows us to raise our own imaginary army to intervene in history in real time.

Zahra’s Paradise is a wall drawn around the constitution of Iran’s children. Initially, I wanted to avoid grief by taking refuge in farce. The events in Iran, the protests, broke through. Every day, we’d catch glimpses of Iran’s youth (anyone under eighty), their faith, dreams, courage and cool, breaking out through an electronic wall. But their story appeared as fragments scattered across the face of time. Zahra’s Paradise is the garden where we’ve tried to piece together the fragments, and put a name and face to the story. Mehdi.