Behind Jafar Panahi’s ‘Closed Curtain’

In 2010, the Iranian government handed filmmaker Jafar Panahi a six-year sentence for producing “propaganda against the state”. His punishment includes a 20-year ban on making movies, writing screenplays, leaving the country and giving interviews to domestic or international media. His response? Making two films by any means necessary or, at least, by those available to him.

Closed Curtain (2013) is the second of those, a dreamy, complex and oftentimes confusing reflection on and testament to the art and necessity of storytelling. It’s almost a film within a film –and a sad one at that– with no shortage of thinly-veiled metaphors to describe the isolation, repression and depression Panahi has been coping with since his sentence was handed down.

Much like Panahi, who wrote and directed Closed Curtain while under house arrest, the film itself is trapped within the confines of a villa on the Caspian Sea where a writer (Kambozia Partovi) has come to work on a new story. But he finds no peace in the secluded house, even as he hides behind the dark and heavy curtains that shield him and his dog –an animal deemed illegal under Islamic Sharia law—from the outside world.

His cozy comfort is shattered when Melika (Maryam Moghadam) a young woman on the run from the police, mysteriously enters the house. Melika taunts the paranoid writer –even suggesting she once worked as a spy— until she vanishes as inexplicably as she entered. A confusing segment follows in which the writer, hoping to separate fact from fiction, attempts to recreate the time between the woman’s arrival and departure.

An intriguing first half is followed by let down in the second, one it never manages to lift itself from. We learn that the first scene was in fact all a fiction when reality sets in, first in the form of a burglary at the house, and then when Panahi makes his appearance, and immediately begins removing the dark curtains to let the sunshine in. But instead of casting light on Panahi’s journey, the focus becomes murkier leaving the viewer far less engaged and largely disinterested.

Despite the obvious limitations Panahi is forced to work within, the film is beautifully shot, from the scenes inside the sprawling home to those that reach beyond its confines.

Note on Panahi’s current situation (11-Nov-2013):

His daughter Solmaz Panahi, who is studying visual arts in Paris, is accompanying the film on the festival circuit on her father’s behalf. During a Q&A after the screening, she confirmed that his confinement is not absolute. He does have limited freedom of movement but he’s not allowed to leave the country.

A trailer:

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Screened at the 24th Ljubljana International Film Festival, 12-Nov-2013.
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