Negar and Ashkan (just out of jail) are young musicians in Iran who just wanna play some chill keyboardy indie rock. They can’t perform in their own country without government permission (impossible), but could perform outside the country with passports and visas (unlikely, but slightly more achievable). There’s a story here, as they travel Tehran gathering money and bandmates and checking on the status of their illegal passports (culminating in injury and arrest and disappointment), but the movie seems like an excuse to show off the different types of music being made in Iran, and the difficulty involved in making music (and, in the intro scene, the difficulty involved in making this film itself).
The movie comes to life whenever Hamed Behdad appears, playing a fast-talking hustler who slings bootleg DVDs and lives with his pet birds Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, and Monica Bellucci … It’s only when Behdad is onscreen that Ghobadi effectively dramatizes Persian Cats’ thorny questions: Whether it’s better to fight or flee, whether a repressive regime forces artists to consort with criminals, and whether some laxly enforced laws are only on the books to give the government an excuse to crack down on non-conformists.
Not very Herzogian – the great man doesn’t interject any commentary of his own, letting his narrator (journalist Michael Goldsmith) do all the leading and interviewing, and not cutting away when Goldsmith follows up interview subjects’ stories of being imprisoned and tortured for years by order of Central African Republic dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa with Goldsmith’s own oft-repeated story (“you know, I was imprisoned for a month myself”). Gives the feeling that it is the journalist’s film and Herzog is a director-for-hire, which is probably not true. The movie does, after all, end with a caged monkey smoking a cigarette, which isn’t a typical way to end a journalistic interview-doc. And it opens with Herzog himself reading a letter from Goldsmith over beautiful, otherworldly shots of migrating crabs. It’s just the bulk of the film in between those animal bookends that seems kind of typical.
Bokassa, fallen dictator:
Bokassa himself seems sadly typical – a military leader of an African country who took over the government, becoming more corrupt, horrible and bizarre as his rule progressed. We talk with a couple of his (many) wives and some kids, including one who was involved in a fraud/mistaken-identity comedy which led to her having a sister with the same name who got married on the same day as her.
Goldsmith survived torture and imprisonment in Central Africa, and returned safely from Liberia (where he had gone missing at the time of this film’s completion), only to die of a hemorrhage in late ’90, shortly before the film premiered.
Fascinating movie. I think Katy liked it too, though we were both a bit upset after she vetoed my triple-feature short-doc selection at the last damned minute.