Despite being sentenced to house arrest and being banned from creating films for a full 20 years, Iranian auteur and true cinematic icon Jafar Panahi has taken to cinema to work through a myriad of issues, and as a follow up to his masterful This Is Not A Film comes his first “fiction” film since his sentence, and it is yet another stunning meditation on an artist forced by existential circumstances to repress his art, and just how intellectually crippling that can truly be.
Relatively plot-free, or at least a film where the plot is as much a dream and as fluid as one could imagine a film’s story being without becoming incoherent, the film ostensibly follows a writer (played by billed co-director Kambozia Partovi) who following the announcement that dogs are a menace to the society of Iran and shall be killed on sight, blacks out his home windows, locks his doors, and takes shelter in his beautiful home. Staying quiet and living sparsely, his world is turned upside down when a pair of siblings show up, and ask him to take shelter along with him. The female in the duo is a revolutionary of sorts, who must shield herself from authorities seemingly hot on their tails. Relatively straight forward structurally at that point, the film becomes truly surreal and dream-esque when Panahi himself walks on this screen, as himself, subverting the entire film’s sense of fact and fiction, turning it into something resembling a deeply personal bit of cinematic therapy from a director interested in discussing sociological issues more than crafting a coherent “plot.” And thankfully, there is no one more fitting to bring to light some of these deeply troubling issues than the masterful filmmaker that is Jafar Panahi.
And as this “therapy session,” which may sound like a slight or an attempt to trivialize the story and themes being discussed here, the film is absolutely beyond reproach. Sure to turn away those unfamiliar with Panahi as an artist or as a political figure, the film discusses themes ranging from the oppressive nature of the Iranian government to the claustrophobia and terror found within an artist when his ability to create is taken away from him. Very much a spiritual cousin of sorts to its aforementioned predecessor, this picture mines many themes found within Film, and yet, feels entirely fresh, vital and haunting in many ways. As far from subtle as a film this powerful could imagine being, the film is almost entirely built around symbols, including things like the blacked out windows that protect our characters from the oppressive Iranian government or the characters themselves, standing as opposing points in the discussion of how one goes about dealing with true oppression.
The performances here are solid, but again, they aren’t truly the point. Partovi is the film’s lead and is great here as the writer under duress, but the film truly comes to life when Panahi comes on screen, and the story is ostensibly thrown out of the window. Or put into a blender, if that analogy fits. The film’s neo-realist aesthetic posits this film as an odd middle point between documentary and stage play, very much like the cinematic version of the stories Panahi stages in his previous work. Intimate, unflinching and with an omnipresent camera, Panahi may be “banned” from making pictures, but if this gorgeous and intellectually thrilling meditation on artistry under the eye of true dictatorial oppression is an indication, Panahi may very well be the most important cinematic voice the world has seen in ages. It may not be a far cry from his last picture thematically, but Closed Curtain may very well be the director’s best film to date.
Closed Curtain will screen tonight, February 8th at 8:30pm at the Whitsell Auditorium at PIFF, and again on Wednesday at 6pm at Cinemagic.