Although much can be discussed about the film, life and death are inextricably linked in this unusual conception. It is not easy to relate to nor easy to understand, yet there is a charm to the film, bewitching in its strangeness and it’s daring,
The 2013 Iranian drama and winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for Best Script plays out as an allegory about Panahi’s inability to connect with the outside world, much like his writer character in the film. The film being the second to be made in a 20 year ban placed on the filmmaking after his 2011 film This is Not a Film, it is the pair’s fifth cinematic collaboration of any kind, Closed Curtain being their first co-directed film together. Credited as a director, author, producer, Jafar Panahi remains one of the most influential Iranian filmmakers, despite the lengthy ban. Shot in secret with a small crew in the confines of Panahi’s home this low-budged aesthetic is clear to see. The curtains being more than a device to advance the plot, they were used in a bid to avoid suspicion and so in many ways their inclusion in the narrative becomes even more significant.
Panahi’s problems came in the aftermath of his 2000 drama The Circle which tackled a number of the complicated issues regarding the oppression of women in contemporary Iran, a social critique continued in his 2003 drama-thriller Crimson Gold which resulted in his ban in 2009. Despite this however, he continues to make films in secret, Closed Curtain representing his second film made under these restriction. His latest 2015 film named Taxi which won the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival will be his third. It should be noted however that since the films release, co-director Kambuzia Partovi and main actress Maryam Moqadam have been banned from travelling.
With a multitude of thematic levels, the strands of the film coalesce into a rather subdued ending. Much like the film title, the film does what it says on the tin. The story as it stands is the tale, in part, of a secluded writer (expertly played by the underrated co-director Partovi) who reluctantly provides sanctuary for two mysterious siblings on the run from the police. Hiding away from the world with only his dog for company, his tranquility is abruptly disturbed and his troubled past begins to cause trouble for his future. The film then takes an unexpected U-turn to recount the tale of the house’s original occupant (played by Panahi himself) as members of the siblings’ family come looking for the two wanted criminals. But, come dawn, another unexpected presence will change everything.
There is a similarity to the main characters. Both are on the run: the writer with the dog he is not allowed to own because it is deemed unclean in Iranian culture, and Mogamdam’s character who took part in an illicit party. Together they barricade themselves in the secluded seaside villa as the characters begin to unravel. In this same space, the tension and mutual suspicions are expounded as events go from strange to worse. Why did he shave his head? Is the man really her brother? How does she know he is also wanted by the police? Why is he so fiercely protective of his dog? More prisoners then inhabitants, as police sirens and radio chatter appear to be closer and closer to the house, will they be caught?
Is what we are witnessing the mutual transformation of outlaws? Prisoners? Ghosts? Are they alive? Dead? Are they a figment of the mind of a prodigious filmmaker who is no longer allowed to work?
Perhaps, with this in mind, the film appears more interesting from the viewpoint of the background of the film’s directors then the actual finished film, the film appearing more as a cry for help by Panahi then an expertly crafted film, in some places heavy handed. In many instances breaking the fourth wall, coupled with the directors’ somewhat unnecessary on-screen presence, it seems that Closed Curtain is above anything else an expression of Panahi’s personal odyssey than demanding any critical appreciation from the larger film market.
The film should be praised for its lighting and cinematography knowing the way in which the film was made. Despite this however, there remains little emotional response that can be elicited from the audience, the film is very much dead in its emotional undertones despite the constant commentary about death and suicide. Maybe then this has something to do with the expression of Panahi’s thoughts and feelings in a film not quite his own and under such immense restrictions.
Politically oppressed, Panahi’s cameo in the film seems ill advised and largely out of sync with the film’s overall plot. Perhaps in this instance it would have been better to have continued fleshing out the backstories of Partovia’s writer character and Melika’s (Mogamdam) mysterious character whose disappearance and re-emergence in the film is as startling as it is bewitching.
Then, as she walks into the sea, commanding the men to follow her to what seems to be their death, or if not then capture, from this point on the film alludes to the idea that the men have somehow shared the environment in the same time period unbeknownst to one another, the similarities in their experience being the unnamed women who comes looking for Melika’s character, made even more evident by the camcorder footage.
The secluded house near the sea seems an idyllic setting for Closed Curtain, the film’s first and third act being largely made up of a lengthy static shot of the seascape view from the villa’s largest window, lasting approximately 4 minutes in length. With the inclusion of dialog only occurring nearly 17 minutes (and 45 seconds to be precise) into the film, quickly turning full circle in a largely unmoving plot.
For all that could be said to be wrong about this film it still holds an impressive runtime. A quiet film, largely devoid of descriptive dialogue, it is most likely that you won’t rate Closed Curtains highly, nor will you remember it amidst the huge number of films to be released this summer alone, but any followers of Panahi and Partovi should not deny that Closed Curtains represents a return from Panahi that is more indulgent then ever, transforming the film into an aggressive political comment on the creative restrictions under which he lives, as well as serving as a symbol of his unrelenting perseverance to battle against them, despite lacking the gallantry that can be seen in The Circle and Crimson Gold.
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark
[SRA value=”2″ type=”BIG”]