Year Released: 2013
Distributor: Variance Films/Amplify
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Taxi (2015 Jafar Panahi Film), This Is Not A Film, Who’s Camus Anyway?,
-Some spoilers will be discussed including the twist.
-Closed Curtain was the 2nd film and first fictional work created by Jafar Panahi since facing Iran’s film ban.
-This film was created entirely inside Jafar Panahi’s beachfront property near the Caspian Sea. It was shot in secret, too.
-The screenwriter is played by co-director Kambuzia Partovi. He is also a screenwriter in real life and has written for another Panahi film known as The Circle.
-Fandom Bonus: During the famous surreal plot twist midway through the film, there are movie posters of Jafar Panahi’s other films such as The Circle, The White Balloon, and The Mirror shown in the set.
I just can’t escape your movies, Mr. Panahi. After reviewing several of his films whether they be fictional works, short films, and the famous This Is Not A Film docudrama which was my first exposure to this Iranian director, I learned to rethink cinema and realize that great films can be made with limited budgets. The story of him being censored by his home country’s government made him extremely sympathetic and I applaud his bravery to make films despite his sentencing. For this review, I decided to check out his first docufiction project.
Closed Curtain takes place in a beach side house near the Caspian Sea. There’s an old screenwriter who lives with his dog inside. He’s struggling to write the script for a film in his period of isolation. Not only is he cut off from human contact, but he deliberately shuts all the shades, drapes off the windows, and closes these jet black curtains so no one can see him, hence the title. On one fateful day, two siblings named Melika and her brother Reza show up seeking shelter at the screenwriter’s place. The screenwriter wants none of it and he sends them out despite them being hunted down by the cops for the crime of having a late night party on the beach. Despite being sent off, Melika constantly shows up at the screenwriter’s house and it torments the screenwriter as he wonders how and why she keeps appearing inside his own home. That’s not even getting into the huge plot twist that really changes the entire movie.
I was expecting one movie and got something else entirely else. I didn’t know much about Closed Curtain which I thought was for the best when going into this film. There was a feeling of isolation as the mundane aspects of life happen to the screenwriter. He spends the beginning of the film shaving his entire head, taking care of his dog, and trying to write this script and very little dialogue shows up until the debut scene of Melika and Reza. That character certainly felt paranoid around everyone and his dog was the only thing he trusts. Melika was a character I was expecting to be a typical manic pixie dream girl only for me to be proven wrong when it’s revealed to what she was really about. She pleads with the screenwriter to give her asylum, but Reza warns him that she has a habit of being suicidal. Maryam Moqadam just nails it as the mysterious Melika. She is clearly not all there as she talks about cryptic and abstract things. Later on, she constantly destroys the fourth wall and that’s not even getting to be who ends up being the real protagonist of the entire film. Melika calls out everyone, but in delphic statements such as “Only scared people lie” to the screenwriter and to another person she says “If things were okay, then I wouldn’t be here.” in such a cold way. The Melika character is someone who I see as a metaphor for unfettered creativity. She doesn’t make sense all the time, but she wants there to be freedom and wants the others to express their works albeit in a snide way.
I thought this was going to be a typical neorealistic film with a fictional project…and then the curtains were ripped. My jaw dropped when I noticed what was going on. This film that I thought would be a full-on drama ended up being one of the most meta things I’ve ever seen in my life once the plot twist dropped. Even 8 1/2 wasn’t this surreal and that had a higher budget and more fantasy elements to it. If you don’t read the synopsis (please don’t), this comes out of left field and you’ll be shocked once you realize what was going on the whole time. The only constants in this film are the villa and Melika itself. They act as catalysts that converge film and reality despite being filmed organically. There ends up being no fourth wall after the second half of the film as self-awareness becomes quite apparent after the real protagonist shows up. Hint: pay very close attention to some of the fun facts.
Closed Curtain was certainly a surprise to watch, but I wasn’t feeling the film as much as I did with This Is Not a Film or Taxi. There were some plot holes abound like the random disappearance of Reza. He becomes a big lipped alligator moment as no one mentions him again when I thought he would have a much bigger role in the film. Another thing that got too much for me was the somber atmosphere. Jafar Panahi was depressed when filming and trust me, it really shows in parts. Suicide is discussed quite frequently and there’s the iconic shot of Melika and another character in an identical scene walking into the Caspian trying to drown themselves. The rough iPhone footage doesn’t help as it makes the situation much grittier. I also thought there were parts that really dragged such as the opening scene which took way too long despite being a bookend shot of the ending. They could’ve cut three minutes and it would have had the same impact. I also know people will be confused (especially those not familiar with Panahi’s filmography) once the twist happens and wonder what the heck is going on. Not everything was executed well in this cinema of the absurd (see what I did there?) as much as it could’ve been despite the movie still being worth watching.
This docufiction project from Jafar Panahi was certainly an intriguing film. The bending of reality and cinema was quite jaw-dropping as things made sense with the characters. The cinematography is spot-on despite the low budget. It was amazing how well the shot composition and lighting was as I’ve seen movies more expensive that failed in those departments. I did think that Panahi’s depression leaked into the film way too much and I seriously wondered if this was some kind of therapy for him so he didn’t hurt himself after being punished with that twenty-year film ban. Some plot holes did hamper the stories at large which was a shame though. While Taxi was a much superior film that played with fiction in a realistic fourth-wall breaking context, Closed Curtain still stands strong despite some of the issues I had with it.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a fan of breaking the fourth wall in movies.
Subtract 2-4 points if you want more excitement in your movies .
-Excellent cinematography and lighting
-The plot twist (seriously, OMG)
-Melika as a character and as a metaphorical being
-Can be dull to watch in some parts
-Jafar Panahi’s depression is all over this film
-Gaping plot holes with the Reza character
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Teens and up for this film assuming if they’re into experimental movies whether they look realistic or not. Suicide is discussed and some of the imagery of drowning in the Caspian Sea can be very uncomfortable to watch. There’s some swearing, but not a lot though.
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