Directed by Jafar Panahi and Kambozia Partovi
Edited, Written, and Produced by Panahi
Released by Variance Films
Farsi with English subtitles
Iran. 106 min. Not Rated
With Kambozia Partovi, Maryam Moghadam, Hadi Saeedi, and Panahi
Closed Curtain starts out looking like an allegory in some future post-apocalyptic society. But the repression in Iran today emphatically intrudes on the imagination, as it has on the real life of filmmaker Jafar Panahi since his 2010 arrest, imprisonment, and 20-year ban on filmmaking and travel outside of the country. This is a daring follow-up to his brilliantly defiant This Is Not a Film (2011), which was also smuggled out of the country.
On a deserted sea coast, a white-haired, bearded, and nameless man (Kambozia Partovi) arrives by cab at what could be an abandoned villa, with walls full of posters from Panahi’s films from international festivals. Laden with bags, he does the opposite of what most vacationers would do upon arriving at such a retreat. Instead of airing out the house, he laboriously climbs up each level to cover up all the windows completely with blankets and dark shades.
Only when he feels safe in the dark does he opens the largest duffel bag to release his secret—the dog Boy, as adorable a pet as in any movie, including The Artist or Beginners. The TV news blares about a new law that declares owning dogs is “a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West… Walking dangerous, unhealthy or unclean animals such as dogs in places and public transport is forbidden.” Really, that the dog is illegal is not fiction.
The man goes about setting up their new life in quiet hiding. He shaves his head and settles into a comfortable chair to go about his writing, though he has to restrain the dog, who faithfully follows him around, up and down the stairs, but he still needs to empty the dog’s litter box. Opening up the door in the rainy dark opens up the recluses to the dangers out in the night, and society at large.
The sounds of outside police activity breaking up a dance off camera are quickly followed by a young man (Hadi Saeedi) and his sister Melika (Maryam Moghadam) sneaking in the house. Wheedling for temporary shelter, they move from room to room in the villa, and even change into the man’s dry clothes. When the young woman recognizes the older man from the media coverage as the guy who has defied the regime for his dog, she gradually turns into his conscience, challenging him for hiding in the dark. The nervous writer is more obsessed with the details of how they could have gotten by him, though, and he keeps replaying the scene when the two came in, as if that’s what he would tell police.
Then director Panahi himself walks into the empty house, with the camera now held by his co-director, Kambozia Partovi, who co-wrote The Circle (2000) and whose passport was confiscated for this work. He surveys the house’s condition with its salt of the earth caretaker, and admires the lake view in the backyard. For Panahi and his fictional avatars, the ocean keeps serving as a constant ironic contrast to a restricted space and life, a frustrating symbol as to whether the internal life of the mind is enough to keep going and prevent depression.
Just how real the risks Panahi is taking are shown in Mohammad Rasoulof’s brutally frightening Manuscripts Don’t Burn, made by a cast and crew that are credited anonymously, for their safety. It’s currently being distributed in the U.S. by Kino Lorber. It methodically and explicitly relives the persecution, torture, and murder of intellectuals through treacherous hit squads. Arrested along with Panahi, Rasoulof used to make allegories about political oppression, such as Iron Island (2005), while Panahi filmed in the streets. They have exchanged expressive styles in response to their restrictions, and thanks to digital technology that have delivered their films out on a flash drive, both films vividly demonstrate why the whole world must still watch Iran.