Closed Curtain (2013) — Image via berlinale.de

Closed Curtain

Directed by Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi (2013)

Closed Curtain (Pardé) is the second film Jafar Panahi has made since, in 2010, he was placed under house arrest and banned from making films for 20 years for allegedly conspiring to propagandize against the Iranian regime. While its predecessor, This Is Not a Film, toyed with the idea of technically evading the ban through legal loopholes, Closed Curtain focuses its attention much more squarely on the psychological, rather than legal, impediments to Panahi’s ability to practice his art.

Closed Curtain (2013) — Image via berlinale.deThe story begins with the arrival of a screenwriter (Kambuzia Partovi, the film’s co-director) at a seaside villa. The writer opens up his bag to let out his pet dog, then puts up black curtains on all of the villa’s many windows. (We later learn through a disturbing TV report than the police in Iran have started rounding up and killing dogs because they are regarded as un-Islamic.) The writer is soon interrupted by the appearance at his door of a young woman, Melika (Maryam Moqadam), and her brother (Hadi Saeedi), who are on the run from the police after being caught drinking alcohol at the beach. When the brother heads out to seek help, the writer is left with Melika. Through their conversations, we gather that the writer is also a fugitive from the law, having injured a police officer in the process of rescuing his dog. After Melika mysteriously disappears and the villa is briefly broken into by unknown assailants, her reappearance sparks an argument that culminates in her going around the house tearing down the writer’s curtains.

Closed Curtain (2013) — Image via berlinale.deAt that point, everything changes with the sudden appearance of Panahi in front of the camera. Much like the little girl from his second film, The Mirror, who decides halfway through the film that she doesn’t want to act anymore and wants to go home, Panahi decides that he doesn’t want to pretend anymore that the villa is not his and that the writer and Melika are not characters of his own creation. At least, that is how it seems at first, but for the remainder of the film, as he sets about receiving visitors and getting a broken window fixed, Panahi is haunted by the two protagonists of his film within a film — the writer, who wants to hide himself away from the wider world to create his art, and Melika, whose desire for freedom sometimes manifests itself as an impulse toward suicide. It is probably too simplistic to say that these two characters represent different aspects of Panahi’s personality, but one certainly gets the impression that their quarrels mirror the director’s own internal conflicts.

Closed Curtain (2013) — Image via berlinale.deClosed Curtain has been criticized by some for Panahi’s alleged self-indulgence, what with his appearance as a character halfway through the film, disrupting the established narrative, as well as the focus on his personal psyche and the many small nods to his previous films, whose posters hang on the walls of his villa. It is understandable that Panahi would be more than a little self-focused after almost four years of house arrest, but does that prevent him from making good art? If Closed Curtain is about anything, it is about that question — about the impact that Panahi’s isolation from the rest of the world has on his will to create art, above and beyond the practical restrictions on his ability to make films.

The result will certainly be of interest to those who have seen Panahi’s previous films and followed the news of his legal troubles, but it has at least the potential for broader appeal as well, with its air of mystery and its compelling visual and situational juxtapositions of confinement and freedom, calling into question what both of those concepts really mean. It can certainly be frustrating to, for instance, watch Panahi make tea for the phantoms in his head, but there is something to that frustration. For many reasons, one hopes that Panahi will soon be able to start engaging more broadly with the outside world again through his art, but if so, Closed Curtain will stand as an intriguing document of his state of physical and emotional confinement.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.