Closed Curtain (Pardé)
Iran (2013) Dirs. Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi
As we have discussed in previous reviews of films by Iranian director and pro-democracy campaigner Jafar Panahi, his most recent works have been made against the knowledge and will of the Iranian authority, with Panahi finding new ways to circumvent the ban on filmmaking his campaigning incurred.
Made in between the very naughty This Is Not A Film (2011) and the ballsy Taxi Tehran (2015), Closed Curtain again takes this oppression on filmmaking as its central theme. A nameless screenwriter (Kambuzia Partovi) arrives at his holiday home to work on a new script while hiding his pet dog Boy in the wake of a Government ban on them.
He closes all the curtains and locks all the doors for maximum peace until a brother and sister Melika (Maryam Moqadam) and Reza (Hadi Saeedi) break into the house, claiming to be on the run from the police. Reza slips out to find a car to escape, leaving his suicidal sister in the writer’s care, much to his chagrin.
Because of the limitations imposed on him, Panahi’s film is naturally a very minimalist production and short on cast and crew members, with shooting taking place at his home over three days, in secret of course. The opening scene where the writer shuts out the world by closing the curtains was filmed last to avoid any suspicion from Panahi’s curtains being permanently shut.
Not that he couldn’t get in any more trouble if he wanted too with a 20-year ban on filmmaking – hence Partovi getting a co-director’s credit – and an embargo on any travel outside of Iran. And as we have seen with Taxi Tehran, it wouldn’t stop Panahi from continuing to make more films anyway.
It is quite remarkable that Panahi managed to make a 100-minute film under such restrictions, which is a reflection on his directing skills and that of his competent (and complicit) cast and crew. And as if Panahi was stoking the flames further, the script once again takes a dig against the draconian austerity of the Iranian government with the fictional dog ban, and the reason the siblings are running from the police.
That is until the halfway mark when Panahi flips things on its head and the film gets rather surreal and obliquely meta. When the writer hears the sound of people breaking into the home he hides away with Boy, reappearing to find the place ransacked and the windows broken. Melika is still there, sitting nonchalantly and unharmed while Panahi himself suddenly walks into view and starts clearing up.
From here we are teased that the preceding fifty minutes have been a fictional vision of Panahi’s, since he can communicate telepathically with Melika, who claims she got rid of the writer. Panahi then finds some footage on his phone shot by Melika then we see further footage of the action from earlier, before switching viewpoint to show Panahi and a small crew filming this!
I have to admit to being baffled by this. At first – to me at least – it seemed the writer was supposed to be Panahi and his shutting out the world was a metaphor symbolising the secrecy under which he has to make his own films. With Panahi reportedly in a state of depression when filming started, perhaps Melika was a cipher to put across his own thoughts of suicide.
Even when the film switches tact, there was still the possibility that perhaps Melika was a ghost and the writer and/or Panahi imagined her, again being a symbol of his melancholy caused by the strain of the ban. But once these realities began to cross over and invade each other’s spaces, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
Perhaps it is me being thick or maybe Panahi’s mental state at the time was clouding his own creative judgement but I clearly missed something somewhere. Judging by the random and arguably spectral presence of Melika, she and what she represents, is the key to this.
Whether she represents Panahi’s frustrations, his depression or maybe even the voice of free speech Panahi is fighting for, this ambiguity doesn’t get a resolve which proves frustrating especially when you are already confused. The nameless writer also suffers from the same fate as Melika in that the reality of his existence also seems tenuous, something even the captured footage doesn’t feel like it confirms for us.
It isn’t that I am not used to films which leaves it to the audience to complete the puzzle themselves but not all of them are so successful in connecting with the viewer and for yours truly, this one is another which is beyond my ken. Had Panahi stuck with the same themes and direction of the first half and the story remained on a more conventional plane, perhaps this review would be more positive.
Yet part of me wonders if enjoying or understanding this film isn’t necessarily the main intention. As with Panahi’s other recent works, the true wonder is the bravery and defiance shown in continuing to undermine the filmmaking ban and get his works out to the world. Panahi has plenty of international support, winning the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival, throwing more egg in the face of the Iranian Government.
However this defiance doesn’t feel as prominent here as it has previously, instead there is a sense that this is more of a cry for help, possibly both personally and professionally, which might explain its dense narrative and odd bent in the second half. Judging by the way Taxi Tehran turned out it seems Panahi recovered from whatever was troubling him and got his rebellious mojo back.
Closed Curtain is a title which also describes the divide I felt was between me and this film, but there will be those out there who will be able to get on Panahi’s wavelength. My respect for his steadfast rebelliousness however remains unchanged.