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Iran Underground

Rock still maintains an aura of rebellion in Iran so it’s not surprising that it continues to show up in Iranian New Wave cinema. In 2008’s animated Persepolis, Marji buys heavy metal and punk albums on the black market, providing the soundtrack for her growing disgust with the oppressive Islamic Ministry. In No One Knows About the Persian Cats, we get to see a larger swath of rock as rebellion in Iran as Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi takes us through the underground music scene in the capital city of Tehran, where all Western-style music is strictly prohibited. The film was co-written by Iran-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced to eight years in jail in 2008 after the Iranian government thought she was a spy. Based on real people, places, and events, the film, which won the Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, follows Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad of the indie band Take it Easy Hospital (yes, a real band) as they attempt to leave Iran to play a concert in London. They’re escorted by a smooth-talking lynchpin of the black market, Nader (Hamed Behdad), who promises to find them passports, visas, and additional band members. Ghobadi switches to fast-cut music video montages as they audition musicians, each music genre matching up with a different side of life in Tehran: when the heavy metal band plays, we see scenes of city’s breakneck traffic and when the blues-rock band, we see refugee children sleeping on the streets. Through these band meet-ups, a picture of Tehran’s underground music scene emerges as it looks a lot like ours. Take It Easy Hospital exchanges secret copies of British music magazine NME with other bands, they wear CBGB T-shirts along side women in burkas and at one point, Askhan says that his greatest wish is to leave Iran so he can go to Iceland and see the band Sigur Rós play. With such allusions to Western hipster culture and the series of MTV-style music video montages, No One Knows About the Persian Cats runs the risk of feeling like a lighthearted documentary. The police are never shown, existing only as a looming threat that busts up parties and cuts off power to rehearsal spaces. The viewer can be forgiven for not grasping the seriousness of what’s at stake for these musicians; that is, until the final ten minutes of the film when the plot twist is all the more disturbing after having thoroughly enjoyed this romp through Iranian rock’n’roll.
Fri., May 21, 8:45 p.m.; Sat., May 22, 8:45 p.m.; Sun., May 23, 8:45 p.m., 2010


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