I wanted to see No One Knows About Persian Cats (trailer here) because I’m curious about everyday life in Iran. The movie delivers some of that, but what it excels at is showing us Iran’s underground music scene.
As with most things, Iranian officials are very restrictive about what music can be played, who can sing (females are not allowed to sing solo), even what instruments are used. You can only play publicly in Iran if you get a special permit and of course you won’t get a permit if you don’t stay within the boundaries. Anything that smacks of the “decadent West” won’t get approved and might even get you put into prison.
That poses a problem for the musicians in Persian Cats because they want to play everything from indie rock to rap. In fact, one of the things that most surprised me in this movie was the wide range of styles that were represented. I expected something that sounded, well, Persian (don’t ask me what I meant by that). I was also surprised by the quality. Even the rap song, which I don’t normally gravitate toward (a nice way of saying I dislike it), was well-done and enjoyable.
That doesn’t mean that the music was merely copied from Western music. The lyrics especially are brooding and poignant. What they weren’t–and this also surprised me–was political. It seems that the only rebelling the musicians are interested in is in the realm of art. That’s not to say that art can’t be political, but when these musicians sing about freedom, they mean the freedom to express themselves. They’re not advocating an overthrow of the government.
That’s what makes the Iranian government’s prohibitions and punishments seem so over-the-top: the music scene, at least the way it is portrayed in this movie, is no threat to the regime. Unless you ascribe to the view that once people taste freedom in one area, they want more of it.