Sydney Film Festival Review: Closed Curtain

14 June 2013

In 2010, the Iranian government accused film-maker Jafar Panahi of "making propaganda against the system." He was sentenced to a six-year imprisonment and a 20-year ban from directing and screenwriting. Closed Curtain is his second film since.

That the entirety of Closed Curtain's story takes place inside a beachside house is a clue to the conditions of its production. In his 2011 documentary This Is Not A Film, Panahi describes his one-time dependence on the streets as a source of creative inspiration. For the artist now under house arrest, any outdoor shooting is clearly out of the picture. But the experience Panahi gained in making This Is Not A Film—skirting the technicalities of his sentence and being confined to a small indoor space—has paid dividends of subtlety and elegance in his most recent effort.

The film's narrative involves a screenwriter (Kambuzia Partovi) who has retreated to a friend's holiday home, seeking a peaceful environment in which to work. His peace is intruded upon by a brother and sister (Hadi Saeedi and Maryam Moqadam), apparently evading police who have raided a party on the beach.

Sympathetic to the writer's paranoia, the audience is led to call into question the conditions of and motives for the runaways' entry into the house. We don't know what to make of what we have seen. And when Panahi himself unexpectedly enters the story, seemingly unable to see the other characters, our doubts are only increased.

Panahi's success in Closed Curtain is his mastery of obstruction. The curtains he is obliged to use (to avoid being seen filming by the authorities) become part of the narrative. The limited space available to him is enlarged as it becomes the scene of two overlapping realities. This sense of overlap—of interrelated but somehow irreconcilable worlds—is what strikes the viewer in Closed Curtain. With a sublimely nuanced filmic vocabulary, Panahi communicates a story at once fictive and documentary, suggestive and reserved, patient and urgent.

Panahi's legal troubles began after the disputed 2009 election in Iran. Fans of his work, and indeed all opponents of censorship, can only hope that this Friday's election occasions a positive turn in the film-maker's fortune. It seems almost perverse to think what Panahi might have gained from his persecution. But audiences no doubt look forward to seeing what he will do once he steps out from behind the curtain.

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Contact: Kate Mayor

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