No One Knows About Persian Cats
“Aren’t they leaving Iran in three weeks?” a young Iranian musician asks about Negar and Ashkan at the beginning of the film. That is also the question the audience finds itself asking throughout No One Knows About Persian Cats.
Bahman Ghobadi and co-writer Roxana Saberi (an imprisoned American-Iranian journalist) skillfully (and secretly) show us the heart and soul of Iran as we are taken on a clandestine tour of the underground music scene in Tehran. Shot without government permission, Ghobadi follows Negar, Ashkan and their tour guide Nader (a jack of all trades) on their quest to put a band together and find visas and passports so they can play the aforementioned festival.
While this story is fictional, all of the musicians and groups actually exist and all of the stories and events are very much real. Throughout the film there is a sense of claustrophobia as we hear the stories of musicians who must do what they love in extreme secrecy — one heavy metal group goes as far as practicing in a cowshed– and we watch Negar and Ashkan do their best to fight against the censorship that many Iranians currently face.
What’s truly amazing about this film is how wonderfully they present an eclectic and rich cross-section of society and of music: we see the rich and the poor, and,musically, everything from classical Iranian music to jazz to rock to rap (there’s a great scene of Iranian rapper Hichkas, whose videos you should really look up on Youtube if you get an opportunity).
I might go as far as saying this is one of the more important films of our time. It is an important criticism of political censorship in Iran, and at the same time it is a tragically hopeful celebration of the struggle for creative freedom in the face of possibly dangerous consequences. As an Iranian myself, I also find it to be incredibly important for the rest of the world to see that, despite the current regime, culture is still thriving and modern, and that the Iranian people — especially youth — are just the same as everyone everywhere else. I wish I could show this poignant and powerful film to everyone. If you leave unmoved…well, then you were probably asleep.