On one level, Nobody Knows About Persian Cats is just another story about a bunch of indie-rock wannabes, but writer/director Bahman Ghobadi's vaguely vérité look at the underground music scene in contemporary Iran has a certain built-in drama factor. The aspiring pop stars he's chronicling have far more to worry about than whether or not their record company is a bunch of venal bastards; unlike their Western equivalents, the loud noises they make can get them behind bars or worse. The movie, largely improvised and totally believable, is often very funny, and the glimpses of life inside what remains a very repressive regime are fascinating, but in the final analysis, despite a fairly grim denouement, there's little here you haven't already seen in Hollywood flicks like Singles. On the other hand, if there's an audience out there for Iranian indie-rock there is no doubt Nobody Knows About Persian Cats, will inevitably find it, if only via pirated DVDs.
The story is slight: Two young musicians in Tehran are trying to put together a band as part of a scheme to get to a European gig. As it turns out, they're actually “in it for the music, man” but the scheme’s also a way to get visas and get the hell out of the country. Over the course of a few days they audition a motley crew of young players, mostly heavy metal kids, including one band who’s tragic situation forces them to rehearse in a barn where they practically choke on toxic cow fumes. They also encounter an equally motley crew of scam artists and schemers on the periphery of the arts scene. The most interesting of these is Nadar (Hamed Behdad), an aspiring entrepreneur who's an Iranian equivalent of every American music biz hustler you've ever imagined. (By far the movie's best scene has him fast-talking his way out of torture and a jail sentence in the office of a never-glimpsed bureaucrat in the Ministry of Censorship.) Bhogadi also finds the time to stage a couple of musical numbers in the style of Western rock videos, and once you finally realize that his familiarly whiny and self-obsessed protagonists actually have some talent the film begins to get under your skin a little. It may not seem like much of a revolutionary gesture to sing naive little rock ditties of the sort you heard on the Juno soundtrack, but to these kids the music they're making is quite literally a matter of life and death.
Cast: Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad and Hamed Behdad
Director/Producer: Bahman Ghobadi
Screenwriters: Bahman Ghobadi, Roxana Saberi and Hossein Mortezaeiyan
Genre: Drama/Musical; Persian-language, subtitled
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: April 16 NY