Sydney Film Festival – Closed Curtain review

Closed Curtain

By Simon Miraudo
June 10, 2013

We accuse directors who indulge in metatextual moviemaking of disappearing up their own rear ends. In the case of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, it’s a choice between there and prison. Panahi was put under house arrest by the Iranian government for producing, in their eyes, “propaganda against the Islamic republic,” and banned from making another feature for 20 years. He responded with the ingenious, self-referential This Is Not A Film, which famously had to be smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick hidden inside of a cake (presumably along with a nail file and a poster of Rita Hayworth).

He follows it up with Closed Curtain, which, in the parlance of our times, is a “sort-of sequel.” Even more abstract than This Is Not a Film and his earlier masterwork, The Mirror, it will confound many. It confounded me often. This is a man, however, who is now limited to working entirely in the abstract. Should he make his scathing satires any more explicit, he and his crew could face serious consequences (the two lead actors from this picture have already had their passports confiscated). That means the audience of Closed Curtain will have to do a lot of legwork to unravel its meaning. Surrendering our attention to an artist like Panahi is far from a sacrifice. He’s the one taking the bigger risk here.
Closed Curtain

To outline the events of this ouroboros-like flick in chronological order would be futile. That would imply they progress in an easy to unpack manner. I’d rather start at the halfway mark, when Panahi himself appears on screen, wandering around what has just been revealed as his impressive villa, marked by posters of his films hanging from the walls. We’d previously spent our time with an unnamed writer (co-director Kambuzia Partovi) and his adorable pet dog, Boy (this pup makes Uggie look like a hack). They’d been holed up in the villa, curtains drawn, in fear of the outside world encroaching. It was to no avail. They’re intruded upon by an enigmatic woman named Melika (Maryam Moqadam) for reasons that remain unclear. Panahi eventually reveals himself, but ignores their presence, much to their consternation. Characters in search of an author, they’re spectres of a sort, haunting Panahi’s mind and urging him to make a movie of their odd, individual stories, in spite of his legal inability to do so. Like its predecessor, this is another plea from Panahi; an explanation as to why he must keep working.

It’s alluded that, by being denied the ability to practice his craft, Panahi has turned suicidal. I was reminded of the heart-breaking moment in This Is Not a Film when Panahi reads aloud a screenplay that the government rejected, as a way of getting around his country’s strict regulatory process. In frustration at the task’s failure, he laments, “If we could tell a film, why would we make it?” This is a man driven by the art of cinema. It’s much more than a profession, and closer to a psychological compulsion. Shot with a skeleton crew in secret, on a miniscule budget, and in part on an iPhone, Closed Curtain proves that an instinctive artist needs no frills to tell a story that burns from the deepest part of their gut. Maybe just a couple of friends who are happy to risk imprisonment on your behalf. That’s likely a far more invaluable thing to have.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Closed Curtain plays the Sydney Film Festival June 11.

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