A couple of years ago, I reviewed Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film. That review begins: “Iranian director Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years in December 2010 for political reasons. He can’t leave the country and he can’t work; he can only wait in his (admittedly luxurious) apartment for the final verdict pending appeal.” The initial conditions remain the same. Panahi and his collaborator, Kambozia Partovi, make another undercover film, this time in Panahi’s luxurious seaside villa.
Do you think the Iranian government knows that Panahi has made these two films? His first film, The White Balloon (1995), was Iran’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film. They know who he is and what he does. He’s under house arrest, because at least one person in a position of authority watched his films and thought: Gee, this is some decadent/subversive/heretical stuff. We better shut this guy down. I’m sure that, in 2011, someone in a position of authority did a search for “Jafar Panahi Cannes” and read the story about the flash drive in the cake. Yet Panahi is getting away with making subversive films while legally prohibited from making films at all.
This is a pretty good film. Closed Curtain and its predecessor are doing similar things — share a similar sensibility, leave similar impressions — but this film does it worse. The metafilmic theatrical vibe hits a bad chord.
But let’s turn to the dog. The film begins with Partovi arriving at the villa with his dog hidden in a carrier bag. (He’s come to work on a script, but he never gets around to it because a beautiful, strangely young-looking woman played by Maryam Moqadam shows up to put suicidal thoughts in his head. As far as I can tell, Moqadam is essentially the personification of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance.) Partovi doesn’t let the dog outside except in the middle of the night, which seems a bit dramatic given that the upper classes seem at the very least not to be losing that particular cultural battle. Dogs are deemed unclean in Iran, and in 2011 the government attempted to crack down. They detained and killed some dogs, but I’m sure they have nothing on the NYPD.
The parliament denounced dog ownership for smacking of “vulgar Western values,” and I’m, like, totally on board with that assessment. Some people love their dogs, and that’s a beautiful thing. When Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirzi says, “Many people in the West love their dogs more than their wives and children,” I’m like “Cool, good for them.” But real talk: pet ownership can be awful. Iranian hardliners’ obsession with cleanliness and Anglo-American breeders’ obsession with purity are two sides of the same coin. (Unrelated to that last point: working dogs, including dogs employed by the police, are okay in the estimation of the Rouhani administration. The fallen ones must work!)
Anyway, forget the dog. Toward the end of the film, Panahi’s neighbor comes over with a couple of men who fix a broken window. Panahi pays up, of course, but it’s a nice example of the “communism of everyday life,” to use David Graeber’s term. The neighbor knows the wind isn’t responsible for the shattered glass, but neither is he going to press Panahi for information. Aside from gossip, information’s only good for tipping off the police.
I read Persepolis a couple of days after seeing this film, and there are a few panels that serve as a great comment on the title and on Partovi’s first act in the villa, which is to put black curtains in all the windows:
It wasn’t just the basements. The interiors of homes also changed. But it wasn’t only because of the Iraqi planes.
Mom, what’re you doing?
The masking tape is to protect against flying glass during a bombing and the black curtains are to protect from our neighbors.
Across the street. They’re totally devoted to the new regime. A glimpse of what goes on in our house would be enough for them to denounce us!