Challenging and ponderous effort from defiant Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi
It is almost half a decade since Iranian director Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six-years in jail and subjected to a 20-year ban on filmmaking. His clandestine work since then has inevitably focused on how you maintain any creative spark in such soul-destroying circumstances. Co-directed with Kambuzia Partovi, Closed Curtain is neither as coherent nor as accessible as 2011's This Is Not a Film, offering a muddled allegorical exploration of Panahi’s situation before wearily surrendering to existential angst.
The location may appear like a sound stage or theatrical set but it is Panahi’s spacious, three-storey beach house. The film begins with the arrival of an unnamed writer (Partovi) and the contraband dog called Boy he smuggles into his home. Graphic television images reveal the mass slaughter of dogs in an Islamic society that considers them impure.
Curtains are duly closed in a house that is both sanctuary and prison until the unexpected arrival of Melika (Maryam Moqadam) and her brother Reza (Hadi Saeedi). The last thing the writer wants is more trouble, especially as the mysterious Melika suggests she knows all about his past and the reasons for his exile. The writer displays a restless agitation and increasing paranoia, but the assumption that this is all an expression of Panahi’s state of mind drifts away once Panahi himself walks into a film that turns increasingly Pirandellian.
Marked by despair and the temptation of suicide, the film offers a melancholy vision of creativity under constraint and how it diminishes any artist. One instinctively applauds Panahi’s stoical persistence but Closed Curtain – which debuted at Berlin in 2013, winning the Silver Bear for Best Script – is still an often challenging and ponderous work. Panahi subsequently won Berlin's Golden Bear for Taxi, a much better, more approachable film, suggesting that Closed Curtain has served some positive, purging purpose. Two steps backward, one leap forwards.
Selected release from Fri 4 Sep.