(director/writer: Bahman Ghobadi; screenwriter: Roxana Saberi/Hossein Mortezaeiyan; cinematographer: Turaj Aslani; editor: Hayedeh Safiyari; music: Mahdyar Aghajani/Ash Koosha; cast: Negar Shaghaghi (Negar), Ashkan Koshanejad (Ashkan), Hamed Behdad (Nadar); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bahman Ghobadi; IFC Films; 2009-France-in Persian with English subtitles)

“There’s a real life-threatening risk being in this pic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Iranian Kurd filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi (“Turtles Can Fly”/”Half Moon”/”A Time for Drunken Horses”)directs a guerrilla shot semi-documentary that depicts how serious are the censorshipproblems in the modern-day Iranian theocracy over issues of music. It seems any music that’s not religious is banned in Iran. The story used is a fictional one that follows two teen underground indie rockers in Tehran trying to recruit a band for a gig in London. It was co-written by Ghobadi and his girlfriend Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist, who was arrested and accused of spying in 2009 and only released from prison after the film premiered. The filmmaker asks the $64 question whether it’s better to go exile or stay and fight the system from within. Since the film was released, Ghobadiand girlfriend made a hasty exit from Iran (which probably tells us what they think).Nevertheless, according to the filmmaker, there are some 2,000 illegal bands in Tehran.

Indie rockers Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, known as Take It Easy Hospital, the film’s female and male protagonists, have since left Iran. Negar and Ashkan are non-actors who play themselves. They hope to get phony black-market passports and visas to travel to London with their band, and spend most of the film with silver-tongued hustler Nadar (Hamed Behdad), introduced to them by a recording studio engineer, trying to get the papers and recruit band members. Before leaving the country they play one last concert in Tehran. But the police raid the concert and it results in 400 hundred arrests.

There’s sadness that the underground musicians can’t be free to sing their music in such a repressive regime, and have to go underground rehearsing–like a heavy metal band in a cowshed. The tour of underground Tehran ranges from hearing folk songs in Farsi to electric music to hip-hop, with no music being political (which should tell you all you want to know about the regime).

The music is OK, the drama can be forgiven for being so flat because everyone here is not acting–there’s a real life-threatening risk being in this pic, and that’s reason enough for me to give these brave non-conformists, who still view music as being revolutionary, a tip of my cap for playing their music and making this pic.