Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews


No One Knows About Persian Cats – directed by Bahman Ghobadi – Film Review




picture - No One Knows About Persian CatsMovie Review

by Shawn C. Harris

published April 11, 2010   


No One Knows About Persian Cats

not rated

opens Friday, April 16 in New York


After Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) is released from prison, he and his girlfriend Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) decide to form an indie rock band. Forbidden by law to perform in Iran, they dream of playing in Europe. But with little money and no passports or visas, that dream may never become reality. In No One Knows About Persian Cats, director Bahman Ghobadi takes us on a musical and geographical tour of Tehran as labyrinthine as the streets of the city itself.


The story of filming No One Knows about Persian Cats is almost as interesting as the movie. Due to strong government restrictions on the arts and media, Persian Cats was filmed entirely in secret, with little time for rehearsal or reshoots. It's a testament to Ghobadi's mastery of the medium that the brisk pace of filming works for this story. A less skillful director, or one who needs to have absolute control over every frame, would falter, leaving us with a film that feels rushed and unfinished, whereas Ghobadi's spartan approach gives the film room to breathe and grow on its audience.


This is especially true when it comes to the performances. In contrast to the overstudied, overwrought acting that often plagues Hollywood movies, Persian Cats offers a refreshing change of pace. Ghobadi coaxes simple, sincere efforts form his cast. Ashkan Khoshanejad and Negar Shaghaghi are not fake rebels seeking to rebel against authority. They are just regular people who want to make music that expresses who they are and how they feel. The same is true of all the other underground musicians who practice and perform in secret. As a result, we not only connect with the characters more effortlessly, we also watch the story unfold in a way that constantly feels fresh and spontaneous.


Ironically, the parts of the film where the director's touch is strongest are those that happen off-screen. We never see the police or government officials, but Ghobadi subtly reminds us that they're always around. At first, they are a vague but distant presence. Then they become a minor annoyance. Finally, they become a genuine threat. To American audiences used to taking freedom of speech and expression for granted, the gradual realization of the scope and nature of the danger that Ashkan and Negar face leads to powerful shocks in key points throughout the film. These moments create tension that keeps us invested in the story and underscore exactly what Ashkan, Nedar, and other Iranian musicians risk to make their art.


Unfortunately, we never get any sense of what Ashkan and Negar's music is like or what it means to them. There are snippets of lyrics and a few notes. We are told that they want to create indie rock, but in the context of this film, that could mean anyone from Madonna to 50 Cent. We are told that the music they create is not anti-Islamic or anti-government, yet Ghobadi never shows us why the music Ashkan and Negar want to make is so important to them that they're willing to risk so much for it. As the film goes on and the stakes climb higher, we are left wondering why Ashkan and Negar feel it was worth it.


Yet this is a minor quibble in an otherwise wonderful film. The story and characters are deceptively simple, yet lurking beneath is a powerful message. In No One Knows About Persian Cats, Bahman Ghobadi shows us that no matter how society tries to control or repress or destroy it, people will always make music.


shawncharris @


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