x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

DVD review: No One Knows about Persian Cats

A frenetic and often funny docudrama about the Tehran music scene results in a curious mix of claustrophobia and hope.

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When the Iranian-Kurdish Bahman Ghobadi's frenetic and often funny docudrama had its first public showing at Cannes last year, it was in the run-up to the Iranian election. A year on it still has the same sense - which made international headlines at the time - of youth trying to be heard. Rather than make any direct political statements, Ghobadi chooses to make his point through Negar (Negar Shaghagi) and Ashkan's (Ashkan Koshanejad) story of artistic struggle amid Tehran's underground music scene. The bandmates are trying to hold a concert in their homeland, as well as escape to London to play a gig. First they need musicians, and second permits and passports. The former are easy to come by: Tehran reportedly has around 2,000 bands playing the western-style music that is prohibited by the government. The latter less so, requiring the expensive services of the Artful Dodger-type Nader (Hamed Bahdad). It is an excuse to show the hugely energetic and varied sounds that have emerged in the city's basements, cowsheds and rooftop shacks, from indie rock to rap and fusion jazz. Based on real people and events, the film's breathless pace is no accident: it was shot illegally in 17 days as they zoomed around Tehran, taking, as they went, a snapshot of the country's people. The music, though fabulous, overrides the narrative in the first half. But the two soon interweave, building to an unexpectedly devastating climax. The result is a curious mix of claustrophobia and hope; presumably exactly what these musicians feel.