No One Knows About Persian Cats, Bahman Ghobadi, 103 mins, (12A) - Reviews - Films - The Independent

No One Knows About Persian Cats, Bahman Ghobadi, 103 mins, (12A)

There's nothing velvet about this underground

Rock musicians love to strut their outlaw credentials, but there have always been places where certain types of music really will make you an outlaw. Take Iran, where performing or listening to Western music is very much frowned upon by the authorities.

No One Knows About Persian Cats is a tribute to Iran's underground music scene from Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, who made a splash on the art-house circuit a few years ago with A Time For Drunken Horses, an intense rural drama about smuggling across the Iran-Iraq border. A very different enterprise, but similarly about contraband activities, No One Knows About Persian Cats – visually rough-edged and filmed surreptitiously during 17 days – is part reportage, part "let's-do-the-show-right-here" fiction. Its central figures are young musicians Negar and Ashkan (Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad), a woman and a man respectively, both fresh out of prison for their musical activities but undeterred, and planning to assemble a band to play a London gig.

Ghobadi follows these two sweet-natured, distinctly talented hopefuls through the Tehran underworld, from rehearsal cellar to recording studio to cowshed – anywhere instruments can be set up on the sly – as they try to recruit accomplices for their gentle but spirited indie pop. In fairness, the duo are rather less interesting than some of the talents they encounter. These include a dazzling blues chanteuse named Rana Farhan, a stocky sound engineer who doubles as a foghorn blues rasper in the Howlin' Wolf mould, the heavy- metal denizens of the aforementioned cowshed, and a rather impressive rap artist (named Hichkas, but I wonder if his homies call him 50 dirhams?) who proves that the usual hard-times-in-da-hood material works just as well, if not better, in Farsi.

There's an uneasy balance between the narrative and the music sequences, some of them shot as serviceable MTV pastiche – sunkissed postcard images for the more traditional performers, montages of bustling Tehran life for those singers who presumably preferred not to have their faces appear on screen. Some viewers might not consider it such a revelation that Tehran's music scene is populated by ardent Sigur Ros fans and slackers in Strokes T-shirts – although, admit it, you would never have guessed such things from most of the Iranian films we've seen in Britain.

The show is stolen by Hamed Behdad as Nader, an energetic but unreliable hustler who promises to take care of the young couple's affairs. A speed talker who rivals Martin Scorsese for manic velocity, Behdad has a fantastic scene – comic and terrifying in equal measure – in which he frantically tries to argue his way out of a punishment of 75 lashes for possessing Western DVDs.

This is ultimately not a happy story, as befits the subject, but it's a vivid snapshot of a hitherto under-publicised scene. And it's a welcome reminder – in our blasé download era – that in some cultures, music can still be not only hard to find but also, as the phrase goes, as serious as your life.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week