Closed Curtain

 

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Under house arrest, the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi plays with the concept of video diary, documentary and Absurdist theatre.

 

Closed Curtain

A dog's life

 

It’s not often that a drama suddenly turns into a documentary. But then Jafar Panahi is no ordinary filmmaker. And there’s the tragedy. His last project, apologetically called This is Not a Film (2011), was a video diary of his life under house arrest in his Tehran apartment. After his films The Circle (2000) and Crimson Gold (2003) dared to question the regime in Iran, he was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making any films for twenty years (and from leaving the country). While awaiting the result of an appeal, he made the cheekily titled This is Not a Film, downloaded it onto a USB stick and, reputedly, had it smuggled out of the country in a cake. Later, it was shown at a special screening in Cannes and went on to reap universe acclaim.

 

Now Panahi is incarcerated in a house perched on the edge of the Caspian Sea and has concocted a metadrama in collaboration with the writer-director Kambuzia Partovi (who, since the film’s screening in Berlin, has now also been banned from travelling). Again, the new film is shot entirely within the confines of Panahi’s residence. Partovi plays a writer who arrives at Panahi’s place with his dog, Boy. However, knowing that Islamic law deems dogs to be ‘unclean,’ Partovi methodically drapes all the windows of the house the better to conceal the presence of his canine companion. Obviously a man in fear for his safety, Partovi then shaves his head and listens out for unfamiliar sounds. The house has become his whole world and, with Boy by his side, he sits and stares at the black drapes that now obscure the wonderful view of the sea. The symbolism of this – the curtains that enshroud his and his colleagues’ creative freedom – is only too painfully clear. Then, to add to Partovi’s feelings of paranoia, a man and woman force their way into the house, themselves on the run from the police. She – Melika (Maryam Moqadam) – has apparently participated in an illicit party on the beach. Reluctantly, Partovi helps her to dry her wet clothes, while desperately keeping Boy secluded upstairs.

 

With the inherent claustrophobia of the curtained house, the filmmakers have artfully created a theatrical suspense, compounded by the exterior soundscape of waves, birds, voices, a helicopter, a whistle… Nevertheless, the house, with its actors playing refugees from the state, is still a conceit of sorts, and then Jafar Panahi himself – as Jafar Panahi – enters the frame, seemingly oblivious to the characters already occupying his home. Wandering around his dwelling, he pulls the curtains down, revealing large posters of his earlier films, The White Balloon and The Circle. In real life, a neighbour brings Panahi refreshments and then workmen turn up to fix a broken window, while, upstairs, his characters stand around abandoned. Under house arrest, Panahi is losing his creative spark and his characters have turned into ghosts. Melika, feeling forsaken, announces that “there really is only one way out,” leaves the house and walks into the sea. At the end, Panahi himself leaves, climbs into his car and drives off, deserting his co-director and the latter’s forbidden dog. Then, as if to remember his forgotten protagonist, he reverses the car and is reunited with the characters of his censored imagination. It’s the only moment of hope – as if, even under such stultifying circumstances, the director has reconnected with his creativity. It’s a sublime moment of Absurdist theatre and a daring and inventive snub to the regime that has imprisoned his artistic soul.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Kambuzia Partovi, Maryam Moqadam, Jafar Panahi.

 

Dir Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi, Pro Jafar Panahi, Screenplay Jafar Panahi, Ph Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah, Ed Jafar Panahi.

 

Jafar Panahi Film Productions-New Waves Films.

105 mins. Iran. 2013. Rel: 4 September 2015. Cert. 12A.