Directed by Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi
After being banned from making movies for 20 years by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jafar Panahi made This Is Not A Film—less a plea for international support than a rigorous self-portrait of clipped artistic wings, and as such, a sagacious and sad dialogue on what makes cinema unlike everything else. Closed Curtain, co-directed by star Kambuzia Partovi (who directed 2005’s Border Cafe), is less centered on the case of Panahi the house-arrested auteur than it is on Panahi as a totemic stand-in for himself, a weaver of narratives. The film opens with a gambit that feels almost startlingly auto-allegorical: a middle-aged writer (Partovi) takes refuge in a lavish villa by the Caspian Sea, lovingly unpacking his dog from a duffel bag. Our nameless hero lives with his windows covered, struggling to keep the animal inside, scribbling pages which will become a screenplay. As the dog languorously watches TV from the writer’s leather sofa, the images on the screen reveal that a nationwide dog ban is in effect, and the pooch blinks blankly while the writer—concerned, but distracted—pads off, either ignoring or failing to notice an onslaught of footage of dog euthanizations. The narrative further complicates itself with the arrival of two young people looking to hide from the cops; one might be forgiven, for a brief moment, in thinking Panahi had made an apocalypse picture.
Asked to look after the girl (Maryam Moqadam) on the grounds that she’s on the verge of suicide, the writer loses concentration—indeed, as does the film. And that’s very much the point: if you recall the moments in This Is Not A Film wherein Panahi would whip himself up into a creative frenzy, only to break himself off in desperate frustration, Closed Curtain pulls the same trick on the audience by deflating its own narrative balloon midpoint, never quite to return. Windows are uncovered, glass is broken, the dog gets out, and none of it really matters, because the aforementioned characters are just fragments of Panahi’s home-arrested imagination—a promise to the audience that the filmmakers have chosen to break on purpose. What follows is as moody and oracular a film as Panahi has ever made, and that’s saying something: he positions himself not as a prisoner of politics but rather as a man frozen in stasis, unable to change events around him. It’s a rich frame to hang around Panahi’s situation, showing—again—cinema sapped of its will to live, as a kind of numb gestalt for Panahi’s day-to-day experience of reality. But that said, the film is existentially suicidal: weak, opaque to a fault, and meandering. At one point Moqadam admonishes Panahi that he can’t “steal reality”; she’s right, and that’s why the ban needs to end as soon as possible.
Opens July 9 at Film Forum