Directed by: Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi.
Written by: Jafar Panahi.
Starring: Kambuzia Partovi (Writer), Maryam Moqadam (Melika), Jafar Panahi (Himself), Hadi Saeedi (Melika's Brother), Azadeh Torabi (Melika's Sister), Abolghasem Sobhani (Agha Olia), Mahyar Jafaripour (Younger Brother), Zeynab Kanoum (Herself).
Jafar Panahi has been banned from making films since 2010 – and yet, since then he has made two films. In 2011, there was This is Not a Film, which was a documentary about Panahi, in his apartment (with his cat) as he was waiting on his appeal – he had been sentenced to 6 years in jail, and faced a 20 year ban from having anything to do with making a new film, or leaving Iran. He was convicted for propaganda – but basically, his crime was supporting the “wrong” party in an “election”. This is Not a Film was filmed mainly with an iPhone, and was smuggled out of Iran on a memory stick inside of a cake to get its debut at Cannes. Panahi was defiant and angry throughout This is Not a Fiim. His new film, Closed Curtain, is not a documentary – but like This is Not a Film, is a portrait of Panahi in exile. If he was defiant and angry in This is Not a Film, he is more sad and resigned to his fate in Closed Curtain.
The movie centers on a writer (co-director Kambuzia Partovi), who is clearly inspired by Panahi himself. He arrives at a secluded beach house, and releases his dog from a gym bag – and soon we will find out why. Dogs are considered “unclean” – and have been banned in public in Iran. Later we’ll learn more – than the writer got into a fight over his dog, and is now hiding out at the beach house of a friend to try and let it all blow over. He is writing a screenplay – perhaps the screenplay for the movie we are watching. And then, two people arrive unexpectedly at the house. Melika (Maryam Moqadam) is a young woman and “they” are apparently after her. She is brought there by her brother – and when the writer tries to throw them out, he refuses. He says that he’s leaving Melika here – and the writer must watch her, to ensure she doesn’t kill herself. He’s going to get a car to take her away – and will be back soon. We never see him again – and the two characters share the house uneasily. They argue over who should leave – who “belongs” at the house. They are characters in search of their story, and their creator. And that is when Panahi, playing himself, shows up.
The film is neatly divided into two parts – before and after Panahi show up. It is his house after all. We see the posters for his former movies, and he stalks about the empty house. If he sees either the writer or Melika, he doesn’t acknowledge them. In their conversations, they acknowledge Panahi – working together to try and provoke Panahi into doing something.
The first half of the film is more effective than the second. The first half of the movie is mysterious, and seems like it could go in any number of different directions. You sit there and try and figure it all out. How much of this is “real”, how much is “imagined” – etc. The second half of the film isn’t nearly as effective – once the movie starts to reveal its mysteries, they become much less interesting.
What that second half of the film does do very well though is act as a portrait of Panahi – and how his creativity and imagination can both set him free, and yet act as a prison itself. Closed Curtain isn’t the type of film that Panahi would make if he were to have complete creative freedom. He can imagine different films, but he doesn’t have the same outlet he used to have. For two films in a row, Panahi is stuck making a film in his own home because he cannot do it any other way. I would love to see Panahi make another film like The Circle or Crimson Gold or Offside again. But he can’t. He’s stuck making Closed Curtain. That makes the film interesting – but it isn’t the film Panahi should be making.