We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Most films require little or no knowledge on the viewer’s part of the filmmaker’s likeness or personal history. But folks who walk into “Closed Curtain” unfamiliar with Iranian director Jafar Panahi and his recent travails are sure to find themselves utterly baffled and confounded. A kind of “film a clef,” the movie (co-credited to Kambozia Partovi) is essentially a psychological self-portrait that depends on the viewer’s knowledge of Panahi’s past work and the strange limbo he has existed in since the Iranian government banned him from working for 20 years—and then tacitly allowed him to go on making films “in secret.”
With films such as "The White Balloon," "The Circle" and "Crimson Gold" to his credit, Panahi was one of Iran’s most successful and internationally lauded filmmakers when his outspokenness and political activism in the wake of Iran’s contested 2009 presidential election got him in trouble with the government. He was arrested and jailed for a time, and has credited international protests with his eventual release. Nonetheless, he was subsequently put on trial, convicted and given a draconian sentence that included being banned from making films for two decades.
Living under house arrest (and barred from leaving the country) since then, he has used digital cameras to make two films that have been smuggled out of Iran and gained acclaim at film festivals and art houses around the world. In the droll "This Is Not a Film," he showed himself cooped up in his Tehran apartment and dealing with his de facto imprisonment by reflecting on his past work and continuing to film.
Filmed in Panahi’s Caspian Sea vacation home, "Closed Curtain" at first seems a very different kind of film. A middle-aged writer (Partovi) arrives at a seaside villa bearing luggage, and immediately begins covering the house’s many picture windows with heavy black curtains. One of his bags contains the reason for his secrecy: his dog Boy (played by a personable pooch who gives the best canine performance in recent memory), a pet the man is determined to keep hidden from the authorities who have declared dogs “impure” in Islamic law and therefore subject to confiscation and slaughter.