most filmmakers of his stature, bringing two films to the international
festival circuit over the last three years would be considered reasonably prolific.
For Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced to a twenty year filmmaking ban by the
Islamist Iranian government, it is quite extraordinary. Panahi has been awarded the Camera d’Or at
Cannes, the Silver Bear for Best Director at Berlin, and the Sakharov Prize for
Freedom of Thought. Although he was not
allowed to return to Berlin this year, he added to his list of accolades the
Silver Bear for Best Script with his latest film, Closed Curtain (trailer here), co-directed by lead actor Kambozia
Partovi, which screens again tomorrow as part of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
man arrives in a fashionable villa on the Caspian Sea. The views are spectacular, but he immediately
hangs heavy black fabric over the gauzy curtains, completely sealing the house off
from the outside world’s prying eyes. As
a screenwriter and a dog owner, he has two strikes going against him. Initially, he seems most concerned about Boy,
his four legged companion. The state just
renewed its campaign against “unclean” “anti-Muslim” dogs, so the television
news is filled with grisly images of secret pets that have been rounded up and
killed by the police. Yet, the
screenwriter seems to carry his own distinctly personal secrets as well.
shaving his head to alter his appearance, the man settles in to write his
screenplay. Much to his shock, his
refuge is interrupted by a young man and his suicidal sister. They claim they were chased by the police who
raided their beach party, but their very presence troubles the
screenwriter. Could he have been so negligent
he left the door open as they claim?
established his reputation with gritty proletarian dramas, filmed out in the
real world, at street level. Sadly, films like The Circle (written by Partovi) are impossible for Panahi these
days, so he has moved inside for intimate works, like his protest documentary This is Not a Film and his latest
collaboration with Partovi. In fact, the
first two thirds of Curtain plays
like an Iranian Pinter production. As
the screenwriter verbally spars with his unexpected guests, darkly unsettling
questions emerge. Just how did they
breach his house and if she really is familiar with his case history, just what
does that imply?
viewers were not off-balance enough, Panahi himself walks into the third act,
much like Rod Serling. It seems the
screenwriter and the sister are his characters.
They can observe Panahi tending to his mysteriously damaged beach house,
but they cannot interact with him—at least not exactly.
are pro’s and cons to the meta-turn Curtain
takes. In a way, Curtain becomes a fictionalized sequel
of sorts to This is not a Film,
picking up on its themes and frustrations.
The same sense of claustrophobia is present in Curtain, but it is expressed more acutely. Frankly, the scenes in which the occupants hold
their breath as the police scour around the deceptively darkened house are so
effective it seems like a bit of a shame to shift away from that micro story
and Partovi’s restrained but deeply powerful performance.
Panahi’s pet iguana Igi might be telegenic in Not a Film, but Boy the Dog is probably
the best animal screen performer of the year.
If a distributor picks up Curtain (and
somebody really ought to), his notices might rival that of Uggi in The Artist. Still, there is no doubt Curtain is a profoundly serious film, expressing the themes of
confinement and oppression that hold particularly meaning for Panahi, but also
have resonance for a great many Iranian citizens at large. Highly recommended, Closed Curtain screens again tomorrow night (9/15) as this year’s
TIFF comes to a conclusion.
Labels: Iranian Cinema, Jafar Panahi, Kambozia Partovi, TIFF '13