Panahi - 21 November 2013 - CLOSED CURTAIN


Iran 2013
Directed by Jafar Panahi, Kambuzia Partovi
Running time: 106 minutes

A blizzard of noble arrows descend on us from Iran. Past the artisans of other modern national cinemas, her archery is synchronized in dreamy and deliberate form.

“The slow arrow of beauty. The most noble kind of beauty is that which does not carry us away suddenly, whose attacks are not violent or intoxicating (this kind easily awakens disgust), but rather the kind of beauty which infiltrates slowly, which we carry along with us almost unnoticed, and meet up with again in dreams; finally, after it has for a long time lain modestly in our heart, it takes complete possession of us, filling our eyes with tears, our hearts with longing.”
~~ F. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

This ranged attack has been called the Iranian New Wave. Its first swelling broke with the work of Abbas Kiarostami.

“I prefer the films that put their audience to sleep in the theater. …Some films have made me doze off in the theater, but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks.”
~~ Abbas Kiarostami

Tonight, the first notion to resist is the idea that slow or quiet films are somehow lacking in efficacy. Rather, properly executed, they lull us into a vulnerable state – the inceptive posture from which the infiltration of ideas proceeds unimpeded.

The second notion is that Jafar Panahi, who’s come to represent the New Wave’s second surge, has authored only a meta-fictional biograph in CLOSED CURTAIN. It’s been called a working-through of the prolific artist’s house-arrest and, indeed, confinement is present here. Unlike the imposed nature of the author’s arrest, however, the film’s confinement is principled and self-disciplined. The writer character, played by a prepossessed Kambuzia Partovi, seems to embody the very work of repression. In drawing the curtains, he blocks the light from outside, ostensibly so that he can protect his dog and accomplish his writing. But why does he also plaster over movie posters and mute the television? Aren’t they a kind of “inside window,” to the outside? One of the posters he obscures is LE CERCLE (Panahi, 2000). Coincidentally, It shares its French title with LE CERCLE (THE RING), a horror movie about an encounter with a wretched girl who climbs through a television. It’s not the state that’s hounding him, it’s all manner of troublesome and foreign intrusion. The dog is something like a fearless muse, an innocent soul able to look upon the devastation of the Real without the flinch of complicity. And Melika (“moonlike”) provokes, overturns and destabilizes, eventually drowning in her own choppy tides. Altogether, Panahi depicts a house in sotto voce turmoil. Its ghosts, fantasies and projections are both at odds and in cahoots. If CLOSED CURTAIN is a personal allegory, it’s not only that. And if it’s not a film (like his previous film under house-arrest, THIS IS NOT A FILM), then it’s something more than a film. It’s a discursus on the possibilities of becoming for an ingenious, censorious, rebellious and storied people.

Asghar Farhadi is a key director in Iran’s third generation of the New Wave. His arrowheads, like A SEPARATION (2011) and THE PAST (2013) are less oneiric than those of his forerunners, but no less infiltrative. I look forward to the development of Iran’s cinema, even while its past continues to possess me in dreams.

21 November 2013
Twitter: @akronfilm/@kurtiss

“Stop comparing this to Charlie Kaufman. Iranian cinema was doing self-reflexive before Kaufman did his 1st book report dressed in costume as the book he was reporting on. Besides, Kaufman’s nebbish neuroses are worlds removed from the very real forces constricting Panahi. And yet, Panahi’s film is the more expansive, even as it is very much the id-driven, emotional flip-side to THIS IS NOT A FILM’s logical questions about how to practice his art when his art has been denied him. Allegorical narratives collapse into surreal, metacinematic muse pursuit, the shift occurring in an unvarnished long shot peering into a mirror like some black box rendition of Kieslowski. If TINAF’s experimentalism and daring not only showed its maker unbowed by his harsh sentence but capable of opening up new possibilities of structural and narrative possibilities, CLOSED CURTAIN builds on that, an honest-to-goodness film that continues to splinter and reform as Panahi enters the frame and interacts with the figments of his imagination. Sure, the collapse of a thin allegory for the artist’s direct presence suggests a certain level of didacticism, but A) f*** you, that he is speaking at all is more powerful protest than anyone else can match, and B) ignores how he handles his anxieties and fears as the impressionistically affect him, not as social rants. But if the mystery woman slipping in and out of the frame represents Panahi’s worries about losing his voice, he should take some solace in the fact that this established master continues to put out his boldest, most adventurous work, and he can’t even leave his property.”
“Closed Curtain was another film of mental and physical turmoil projected with considerable restraint and confidence into a drama. Another Jafar Panahi film stuck inside a home, another image of Panahi himself stuck, trapped, behind curtains and doors. A drama of isolation and despair which reveals itself halfway through to be purely expressionistic, the actors literal projections of fears and thoughts of the mind and soul. A door is opened to the night and the poor quality digital camera cannot handled the darkness, which bursts into flames of unstable black pixels, a portal to unknown threats and blank emptiness. In a mirror, Panahi steps into frame and gradually replaces the older man (a timid screenwriter, protectful of his outlawed dog) and young woman (a complex figure: suicidal and a snitch) as the central protagonist whose thoughts—or is it just his house?—are occasionally filled with the words and worries of the two. But the director-actor’s demeanor, despite the sorrow, is as unflappable and open as always: a gentle, warm presence, the intimations of suicide seeming almost antithetical to the simple tone of the man’s body, his aspect. Which is why the admission of such darkness, of such solitude and doubt comes across with such force. And I cannot tell if the closing image, free and jailed at once, is a hope or fact.”
“Closed Curtain uses Panahi’s beach house to create a metaphysical reality in which he appears as much a political prisoner in his real life as he does within his creative world; the fantastical escape offered to him by his characters’ diegesis seems both restrictive and enticing. Melika invites him in a recorded iPhone video to follow him into the water to kill himself; she disappears into the ocean in the video, and we soon watch him start recording a video where he does the same. The film then rewinds the footage and he reappears, dry and unharmed. In Iranian postmodern art, the symbolic use of natural objects and places is an important motif in underscoring the sojourns of its characters, and there are few natural elements more symbolically powerful than the warm, seductive immersion of the ocean. Panahi’s symbolic journey won’t end with drowning waters, but in Closed Curtain he articulates exactly how warm and enticing the waters can be.”