The great boundary-crosser of Iranian cinema, Bahman Ghobadi purposefully steps over the line with this quasi-documentary, highly unofficial panorama of Tehran's tenacious underground music scene, a movie which has accrued additional urgency since its first public screening at Cannes last May. Ghobadi's co-writer, journalist Roxana Saberi, was freed from Evin Prison on the eve of Persian Cats' premiere; his assistant director Mehdi Pourmusa is currently confined there, arrested last month along with filmmaker Jafar Panahi. The movie's protagonists, indie rockers Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, have since left Iran, as has Ghobadi. Negar and Ashkan play themselves as recently imprisoned performers speeding around Tehran on the back of a motorbike in a frantic attempt to secure travel documents and recruit a rhythm section for a gig in London. The movie tours what Ghobadi calls a "hidden world of rebel musicians," as well as bootleg-DVD and fake-passport hustlers, with visits to assorted crash pads and basement music clubs. Persian Cats is likeable but undistinguished filmmaking and the performers are a mixed bag of metal bands, traditional ensembles, rap artists and buskers. None seem nearly as political as the former Czechoslovakia's legendary Plastic People of the Universe; the closest thing here to a rock 'n' roll manifesto is the acid-trance assertion, offered in English, that "dreaming is my reality." Of course, given that everything the movie shows—including two women singing a folk song—is illegal, bravado is a given.
Shaghaghi en route to a gig.
Opens at Varsity, April 30. Not rated. 106 minutes.