Bahman Ghobadi's "No One Knows About Persian Cats" is a minimalist docu-drama in which art mimics real life. This rogue film, shot completely on the fly and without permits, depicts the near impossibility of being an independent rock musician in contemporary Iran. So the great irony is that the film itself was conceived and executed in the same stealthy way in which the musicians depicted in the film must construct and then hide their illegal endeavors in underground exhibitions. "No One Knows About Persian Cats" is really a celebration of artistic freedom and a tribute to musical expression. The plot may be virtually non-existent, but the musical appeal is really undeniable.
In a nutshell, the entire film revolves around a couple of musicians who are attempting to travel to London for a gig. They've got two obstacles, however--they need passports and travel documents and they need additional band members. The rest of the movie is a loose excursion around the streets of Tehran as they hunt for leads to fulfill both goals. With plenty of humor, some disappointments, and loads of musical performances--"No One Knows About Persian Cats" isn't about narrative flow or plotting, but about the almost documentary experience of "being there." The performers are all incredibly naturalistic, as you might expect, and the youthful exuberance of rocking out permeates every frame of the film.
In addition to indie rock (some in Farsi, some English), there is more traditional fare as well as surprising forays into jazz and even rap. A particularly memorable sequence showcases a musical montage of Tehran's street people set to a rap accompaniment. Performances occur in abandoned warehouses, rooftops, and anywhere else they can get away with their "crimes." It's odd, though, I'm not sure it makes sense to describe a film as simultaneously grim and hopeful. And yet, that's exactly how I'd describe "No One Knows About Persian Cats." If the idea of the movie sounds like it isn't your thing--guess what? It probably isn't. If, however, you love international music and an insider's peak into another world lacking the freedoms we take for granted--check this out. KGHarris, 1/11.