Director: Bahman Ghobadi Release Date: March 26 Review by Tara Judah Before the live action starts, there is an onscreen proviso that reads, “Based on real events and locations and people.” From this moment it is clear that you are about to enter the liminal space between fact and fiction, reality and possibility, documentary and drama. But perhaps this is the only way to make a film in Iran; too painful to tell the absolute truth but far too crucial not to, Bahman Ghobadi is indeed a man who bears the burden of representation. This might also be why his work is so often discussed in comparison to (or even, at times, crudely pitted against) that of fellow Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Made without a permit - an incredible risk and possibly even an act of faith in Iran - Ghobadi captures the lives, struggles and absolute passion of Tehran's underground musicians, many of them wise to though not yet hardened by their constant state of repression. From an actual recording studio to a viral infected cowshed, to someone's basement (soundproofed with blankets no less), finding spaces in which to rehearse and play live to an audience is as dangerous as it is difficult. And that’s when the music you want to play is free from any variant of “controversial” content including (though certainly not limited to) any kind of political or “immoral” subject matter. Following the sweet yet increasingly downtrodden pair, Negar and Ashkan, No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009) reveals a series of hopeful encounters that lead ultimately, and inevitably, to a bleak end. And there lies the one problem with an otherwise riveting and confrontational film. Recently released from jail (for a crime literally no worse than playing rock music), and desperate to get out of Tehran, Negar and Ashkan feel smothered by its intolerable iron fist regime, their desperate plea, “we need some air”. Introduced immediately to Nader, a band manager of sorts, and a man who can only really be described as a bit of a chancer, they begin to search for another three band members, a couple of passports and a load of visas so that they might actually be able to fulfill their dream of playing indie rock music in concert to a live audience. But in order to show just how oppressive Iran really is, Ghobadi is unflinching with his use of tragedy to heighten the drama. Granted, the stakes really are that high, but is it absolutely necessary to leave the audience in a state of depression when in fact there is a real glimmer of hope? The reason I insist upon hope as a useful conclusion in this instance is precisely because the events, locations and people are in essence, ‘real’. And moreover, because in the realm of the ‘real’ the musicians did get out of Iran. In fact, they’re in London right now and they’ve got gigs lined up aplenty. That's not to say that gritty realism in film must always reflect absolutely the conditions of its inspiration but had the film been made as a documentary rather than a drama, the impact of the struggle itself would have been effective enough. As it stands, the film is still a revelation in terms of its subject matter and the complex themes with which it deals. And of course Ghobadi is right to tell this story, his conscience the true voice of the film. Incapable of shying away from the harshest of realities; from Nader's arrest and sentencing for bootlegging to the extreme action taken against Negar and Ashkan when they commit the smallest and seemingly most inconsequential of crimes. Brutal and unflinching in its narrative, cohesive in its fight against oppression, constantly questioning the mere notion of human freedom, No One Knows About Persian Cats is a well observed drama that will certainly stay with you once you leave the auditorium. Photobucket