A man, his dog, a young woman and a filmmaker in a house by the Caspian Sea. All three are wanted, but they are also in search of each other. Thus begins an absurd game in which reality and fiction merge.
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★★★★★ review by Jake Cole on Letterboxd
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) fuck 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.
★★★★½ review by Auteur on Letterboxd
Sometimes I'm not sure which type of audience irritates me more, the typically apathetic popcorn-munching, texting and talking blockbuster crowd, or the clueless art film crowd. While waiting for Jafar Panahi's latest film Closed Curtain to begin, somewhere behind me off in the distance, in terms both spatial and divorced from reality, I heard someone tell their friend "you know, this was made at a time when filmmaking was banned," to which her friend replied, "yeah I know, this should be interesting." I wanted so bad to turn around and correct them, to let them know that filmmaking in general is not banned, that the ban was exclusive to Panahi, but the dimming house lights made my decision for me. And besides, what's the point? It's going to take more than an irate theatergoer to shake their Western privilege, to disabuse them of their instinctive tendencies to believe just about anything can be true of an entire Middle Eastern country. I take comfort in the fact that this film was as slow as molasses in January, and the fact that I just KNOW the audible frustrated sigh I heard when the end credits started rolling came from that exact same person.
I share this anecdote because it is amusing, but also because getting the facts straight behind the camera is basically essential to fully appreciate Closed Curtain, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Ever since the time of Leni Riefenstahl, and probably sooner, people have been arguing whether or not an artist's personal life should influence an audience's appreciation of their art, and Closed Curtain could probably fuel that debate, as it is undoubtedly one and the same. But then I follow this train of thought: would this film garner anywhere near the reaction, had it been made by someone not in Panahi's circumstances? So how does one go about drawing a line between the artist and his/her art?
Obviously his filmmaking ban has forced him to turn his camera on himself, as in his previous effort This Is Not A Film, and to that extent there is a suffocating solipsism to Closed Curtain which leaves little room to reflect on anything beyond the limits of his own mansion prison overlooking the Caspian Sea. Perhaps that's why half way through the film Panahi himself appears as the film's main character, pulling the rug out from under the audience that everything that happened previously was not real, but acted out by characters in his mind who unfortunately share his same fate. It's hard to watch this film and forget the reality of Panahi's lost independence when it comes to doing what he loves most. But maybe that's precisely what he wants. Closed Curtain never lapses into maudlin displays and lamentations; it remains elegant, sophisticated and rather impenetrable throughout, an exploration of his state of mind, bookended by two extremely long takes from behind a closed gate.
The more I think about the film the more I applaud what he has accomplished. But then also, the more I am reminded that it is born from a specific set of circumstances that will probably color the rest of his career. Personally I would much rather be watching something like his debut film The White Balloon. Actually, Panahi would probably much rather be making something like that too.
★★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
This Is Not A Film showed a defiant, if not somewhat mischievous, Jafar Panahi, expanding on the restrictions placed upon him by his own Government. The fire has not been quelled since then although his new film shows a far more melancholic, existential atmosphere. It offers a man in despair, suffering from the limitations placed on the freedom to express himself as he once did.
Narratively this is a hard film to confine into even a few concepts. Actor and co-director for the film, Kambuzia Partovi, is a writer, hidden away in a seaside villa with only his dog for company. Thick black curtains block out the daylight so he can hide the fact he has the pet staying with him (dogs are now illegal as pets in Iran). A brother and sister suddenly appear at his door one night apparently on the run from the police and at this point the structure of what is real begins to shift constantly.
Which is really the vast majority of the film as this takes place after only 20 minutes. The language never loses its clarity but defining where Pahani's imagination and the characters that fill his creative mind start and end, is not so easy. The writer originally appears to be the focus of the film until the final act where Panahi himself steps into the frame to become the focus. It appears as if the other two are his fictional creations walking in and out of his own thoughts, as if haunting the house he inhabits.
Large framed posters of his old films hang near the first floor stairway, again reminders of a successful past as a renowned director. The characters talk to each other about what Pahani may be thinking, how he must continue working in his art, inextricably attached to their creator. Although he says little himself the struggle within for clarity is clear and yet despite revealing the mechanics of what he is doing from beginning to end, this increasingly becomes a fascinating study to unravel. We are taken further and deeper into his mind, with few barriers, perhaps looking for and finding, a sense of salvation by allowing us to do so.
Partovi also had his passport revoked for being part of this film, a sign - if any was really needed - that President Rouhani remains as stubbornly resolute as his predecessor. Successful directors gain larger budgets based on success of their films but Panahi continues to show what talent can produce when stripped bare. You fear for how long he will stay out of prison if the authorities feel it is the only way they can force him to obey their rule. In the meantime he is baring his soul for his art, not afraid to reveal the psychological depths of his journey.
★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
uhhhh, hang on a sec.
★★★★½ review by Leo (Willem) van der Zanden 🔥⬇🏠 on Letterboxd
144 YEARS OF CINEMA
Nr. / Year: 2013
Closed Curtain is probably Panahi's most cryptic and confusing film, yet simultaneously also one of his strongest statements.
The film starts with a man and his dog arriving in a big house by the Caspian Sea. They hide out there, behind blacked out windows and all, for the Islamic rules against owning a dog as they are considered impure. During a stormy night a brother and sister arrive at the house, running from the police for consuming alcohol. While the sister stays and cleans herself up, the brother goes looking for a car, never to return. After the sister hangs around for a while and annoys the man with many questions, she too disappears. While the tension around the one man grows and grows, the film suddenly starts to break down as the director himself steps unto the scene. From thereon out, the different realities mix. The story of the man and the dog slowly fades out as it makes room for Jafar Panahi going through his daily routine. He hangs around, let's his broken windows get repaired and talks to friends and crew-members. Meanwhile we see his actress and writer (the man and the sister) quarrel about how their jobs have gotten useless as their director slowly sinks away in his melancholy, yet they never seem to share the same reality as he does.
Co-director Kambuzia Partovi said to the press that Panahi actually suffered from depression and severe melancholy at the start of making this film. As the film basically disintegrates at the midway point, it turns into an expose of the directors troubled relationship with the Iranian state and the effects it has on his creativity and freedom. While it doesn’t carry as much weight as This Is Not A Film, it does have a much more emotional impact through it’s metaphysical, auto-biographical narrative. And while it does leave some room for unanswered depths to get filled, it’s still a solid reminder of what the lack of freedom can do to both a human and an artist. Because, surely there are director’s who won’t get their preferred version of a film out there and of course there’s people who lose money on their film because it is illegally distributed, but when a filmmaker doesn’t even get money for his work or his work isn’t even allowed to be made in the first placed, what becomes of somebody like this? Panahi has learned how to counteract this ridiculous barring of his work and makes it count not only for himself or for his Iranian colleagues but for a whole world of struggling artists who get put down by insane laws and beliefs. Panahi makes wonders come true. BRILLIANCE!!
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