Director: Jafar Panahi and Kambozia Partovi
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 darkened windows. I have not seen any of Panahi’s previous films, but know enough about his current status as a dissident filmmaker– banned in 2010 from making films by the Iranian government for twenty years– to feel the weight of that throughout this film. Enigmatic and deeply affecting, Panahi’s latest draws upon themes of politics and imagination in complicated, intricate ways and explores the cinematic medium as a means of expressing pressure and protest. As such, it is a mesmerizing and challenging testament to what a brilliant creative mind can produce even when forced to work in the most dire of conditions.
Closed Curtain begins with a long take, shot through a wide gated window. The shot is still, and gives the film a tone of claustrophobia and restraint. Panahi makes restraint feel like artistry though, and the slow pace induces both a sense of dread and intimacy with our protagonist, the writer, played by co-director Partovi. The plot, so far as the film remains narrative anyway, revolves around this writer and his dog, Boy– an impossibly, wonderfully expressive dog, might I add– who go into hiding of sorts at a seaside villa. He drapes black sheets over all the windows, and his paranoia seems at least partially resultant from a ban on dogs in public for being “un-Islamic.”
One night, a man and a woman enter his sanctuary and break the albeit tense tranquility. If the film remained one of narrative progression, the central mystery would be who this woman truly is that the writer has been left to look over, and why she knows so much about the writer.
The more questions the film answers, the more mysteries it begins to spin, larger more meta mysteries that create a sometimes frustrating experience that is rewarding nonetheless; perhaps it is actually more rewarding the more mangled and muti-layered the film becomes, and even at its messiest, each and every moment is impressively punctuated by purpose and precision. The film is a puzzle, particularly as Panahi enters as himself.
The film becomes more of an exercise than anything else from that point on– rather than revelations or resolutions, we are left only with Panahi’s self-reflections and the interpretations we make about the writer and the woman in relation to Panahi himself– are they figments of his imagination, or characters he has yet to film, or divergent identities within his psyche? All options seem valid and possible, and the film is more concerned with how this medium can create such symbolism, rather than actually answering our questions about what the symbols are and what is being symbolized.
The film is not easy to understand, perhaps not even after repeat viewings. But it is one of the most important films I’ve ever seen. As expression, as protest, and as self-reflection, the film is a difficult but, again, ultimately rewarding journey. As much as the film will probably always evade my fullest comprehension, it is an experience that I am grateful to have had and an experience which I will never forget– after all, with even a basic understanding of Panahi’s struggles and bravery (working in Iran even under a twenty year ban, secretly shooting in confined spaces partly on smartphones and sending the finished products to film festivals on USB flash drives hidden in cakes), the film will reach your soul and remind you of why cinema still matters.