Originally Reviewed – 5/20/2010
The revolution WILL be televised…or at least shown in limited release on select screens throughout North America.
Staged, written and set in modern day Terhan, No One Knows About Persian Cats is the story of two friends searching the underground Iranian music scene for band mates in preparation for a gig in London. Trouble is, they don’t have a passport and live in a society that forbids any sort of creativity whatsoever. Along the way, they meet an eccentric promoter, meet fellow underground musicians, and discover how difficult it is to make music under the tight grip of Iranian rule.
The above synopsis is pretty much all you need to know about this film. Ninety percent of the movie is framed like this: couple goes to underground Iranian band looking for bandmates, listens to one of the band’s songs, drives around Tehran with wacky manager and repeat. The story structure is a very simple one that really doesn’t allow much in terms of character development or storyline. While there are moments of introspection, all it really consists of is, “I have a bad feeling about this” and “I don’t think we’re going to make it.” The rest of the film, aside from the end, is filled with quick cuts of poverty stricken areas of Terhan and musicians simply playing music. Luckily for the film, that’s all you really need.
The hallmark of this film is the music and the enduring spirit of those who are making it. The cast, from the leads on down, is made up entirely of real musicians from the Iranian underground music scene. This style is reminiscent of the Irish musical Once and the technique gives the film a similar feel, but has a vastly different purpose. Where Once is, at its soul, a love story, Persian Cats is a cry for freedom from oppression voiced in the music and the music is, for the most part, fantastic. Every genre from Avenged Sevenfold style hard rock to indie to hip hop is represented in this film and showcases the best the area has to offer.
Even with the excellent music, the film would’ve have been nothing but a giant Middle Eastern music video if not for the fascinating look into Iranian sub-culture and the government that threatens its very existence. According to the film, the arts are highly controlled in Iran. Everything written, created or played has to go through a Censorship Board for approval. Forget getting together with your friends to jam; in America, if the neighbors call the cops because your band is too loud, they tell you to lower it. In Iran, they throw you in jail for two months. This sense of urgency and guerilla style filmmaking gives Persian Cats its energy and makes you wonder how this film even got made, never mind seeing a stateside release. If a 10 minute jam session nets you jail time, imagine the penalty for making a feature length film about that very government.
While the film features no name actors, a threadbare plot and an ending that may leave some filmgoers a little cold, No One Knows About Persian Cats is an energetic documentary style film that succeeds solely on the spirit of the people involved and the underlying message they are trying to convey. The film speaks like a desperate cry for freedom in the midst of societal repression and hits right to the heart of anyone who can empathize with what these musicians have to go through to do what many of us take for granted. Add to the mix some excellent music played passionately by the people who wrote it and you have yourself a little indie that could and does so wonderfully.
Score – 80%