Closed Curtain is an expert meditation on art, storytelling, and what happens when stasis sets in for a creative individual. A stripped-down, experimental narrative, what begins as a sort of Iranian Walden turns into a brave, fourth-wall breaking meta-portrait of director Jafar Pahani in an imaginative crisis. Closed Curtain distinguishes itself for its innovative techniques, and its secretive existence only works to fortify the movie’s message.
Opening on a symmetrical window view, foregrounded in gating, we see a man (Kambozia Partovi) slowly amble toward a beach home. After several minutes of watching, waiting for him to enter, he arrives with a duffle bag in tow. Inside the bag is his pet dog, “Boy.” We have no idea who he is, why he’s there, or what’s going on. It’s a series of gracefully silent moments of solitude, as we immerse ourselves in this man and his dog. He writes, plays with the dog, and shaves his head, generally minding his time saying next to nothing. Most interestingly, he drapes all his windows in black cloth, so as not to be seen or heard by the outside world. Why?
One night, deep into the movie, his home is invaded by a young brother and sister. He protests, but hesitates in kicking them out. They plead, citing that armed forces are after them. The brother, Reza (Hadi Saeedi), leaves the old man with his sister Melika (Maryam Moqadam, a striking and intense presence) in order to see if the coast is clear for the two. Melika saunters, honing slowly in on the man and dog. It’s tense, but seemingly peaceful. It then turns out she actually knows this guy. He’s a screenwriter. He’s in seclusion after public allegations were made against him by Iranian officials in the trades. He accuses her of planting stories, but before the dam can burst between them, she vanishes.
The writer, flummoxed, tries to make sense of these things but cannot. He spins his wheels trying to figure out this surreal narrative, even videotaping himself re-creating the home invasion. But he’s stuck. That’s when the movie becomes openly creative, and breaks its own barriers. The movie’s real director Jafar Panahi shows up, playing himself, and the second half of the film becomes him trying to piece his life together in that same home. It’s abrupt, but it plays to gripping ends.
The movie goes back and forth between Panahi, and the writer and Melika, as we see that they are indescribably linked – Closed Curtain is about the relationship between and artist and his creations. Perhaps the writer is merely a figment of Panahi’s imagination, or vice versa. Who will complete the other? Can they help each other when they’re so sealed off from reality? What starts as a movie depicting a fellow stuck in his house abruptly stops to reflect on the metatextual crisis of seeing a story through. It’s an amazing idea that takes viewers to new places in filmmaking.
To get the most out of Closed Curtain, it’s important to look at its genesis. Jafar Panahi turns his real-life house arrest into a searing satire and a rejuvenation of creative spirit.
The first half is a not-so-subtle jab at Panahi’s house arrest, showing a man stuck with his work, feeling persecuted, paranoid, upset. This is where Panahi is able to show the deep hurt that one might feel when they are locked away, forced to practice their work in secret. Yet when the story changes and becomes one about the director evaluating his own well-being, it shows how his isolation is hampering his ability to create and tell stories. The movie seemingly shifts gears to address Panahi’s stagant thoughts. He is alone and unable to make his art and it is heartbreaking. When looking at this conceptual divide, Closed Curtains is captivatingly felt.
Apparently Closed Curtain was not only shot in secret at Panahi’s home, but it was snuck out of the director’s native Iran to make it to theaters. It premiered in 2013 at the Berlin Film Festival, where the Iranian government protested. Naturally. That’s what makes Closed Curtain feel so magical in its way – this film should not be outside of Iran screening in the U.S. right now, but here we are, fascinated. It’s a testament to artistic expression.
Panahi made documentaries on Iranian unrest and participated in certain political movements over the last decade that the Iranian government frowned on. According to Wikipedia, in 2010, he was convicted of “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Panahi was sentenced to six years under house arrest. Part of his sentence was a 20-year ban on directing, writing, or giving interviews. That’s no different than the death sentence for a filmmaker like Panahi.
(Editorial aside: The Kelly Affair is an apolitical writing body, but that said: it sure would be nice to see Panahi’s house arrest be lifted and his film be distributed without protest, internationally. No, we’re not necessarily calling for his release, as that’s not our place running a film site, but man. Wouldn’t it be great to see more unprecedented movies like this? If a guy could make a movie this rich within the gated windows of his own home, imagine him out in the world.)