Panahi Does Not Close the Curtain

in 63rd Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Alin Tasciyan

Jafar Panahi once again proved that he is one of the most important directors of contemporary cinema with his film Closed Curtain (Parde) which was selected for the 63rd International Berlin Film Festival. The Iranian government keeps him in confinement and tries to deprive him of his rights to make films without realizing that Panahi represents Iran’s culture in the best way possible. Even under heavy pressure he continues to improve film language and grammar, as well as experimenting with different narratives. He is capable of telling a story and at the same time makes it very personal and very much related to its time and space with an innovative style.

A director like Panahi, who has won many awards including the Golden Lion of Venice Film Festival and has always been critically acclaimed, would have merited attention no matter what he did, especially in his fragile situation and his being supported by an international campaign. If he did a simple political propaganda documentary, or even a short story in which he victimized himself, it would have been accepted on many platforms. But Panahi loves cinema passionately and has dignity. Therefore nothing less than a fully accomplished film would have satisfied him.

Panahi opens up his mind to us in Closed Curtain by playing with the metaphor of curtain that ‘closes’ the window opening to ‘outside’, ‘the world’ that ‘hides’ the inside from outside and vice versa. Closed Curtain opens with a scene in which a white haired man arrives at a beach house with a smart and sweet dog hidden in a bag. The first thing he does is to draw the curtains and put on additional black shades so that their existence will not be noticed. He is a scriptwriter trying to protect his loyal friend from the dog ban in Iran. (In 2011 a law banned dogs from public places in Iran because they are considered unclean according to religion. Many dogs have been confiscated.) Inexplicably a man and a woman enter the house claiming the door was open and they take refuge from the authorities looking for them. They are siblings, the brother goes away to look for help and leaves the sister who is suicidal…Very soon we understand that those characters are meta-fictitious. But unlike the meta-fictitious characters in Luigi Pirandello’s Six Degrees of Separation and other examples of meta-fiction in literature and cinema, they do not get in physical contact with their creator. The owner of ‘the house/mind’ is Jafar Panahi and the characters are self-conscious (that being) images in his mind.

Panahi carefully shows us the many layers of the film. He has actually shot the film with the writer, his dog and the intruders. It’s the film within a film we’ve been watching. These characters represent his will power to resist by working and the idea of committing suicide… Metaficiton, film in film, subconcious–unconscious, reality and ideas are knitted into a complex yet uncomplicated structure. Panahi uses multiple forms, including mobile phone recordings, to separate the layers of the film.

The mastery of Jafar Panahi lies right here. He has carefully worked out his style both literally and visually. The poetic metaphors, such as walking into these and breaking the windows, add to the psychological and sociological dimensions of the film with their connotations. So do the opening and closing shots behind their own bars (of the balcony) as a political reference. Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain is an opening to the freedom of mind and expression through the art of film.

Edited by Steven Yates