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Berlin 2013: 'Closed Curtain' review

★★★☆☆
Despite finding himself under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 'committing propaganda against the Iranian government', resourceful director Jafar Panahi follows his critically acclaimed documentary This Is Not a Film (2011) with Closed Curtain (Parde, 2013) - an existential example of meta-filmmaking disguised as a humanist chamber piece about political repression. Closed Curtain opens with an extended static shot observed through the metal security bars of a coastal villa's window. As we'll discover, this non-to-subtle metaphor for Panahi's controversial imprisonment is just one of many heavy-handed devices used throughout the film.

A man enters the house and quickly begins to close all the curtains before returning to his packed suitcase. He unzips it to reveal a small dog hidden inside. The reason for this clandestine canine smuggling is because Islamic law forbids the ownership of dogs, as they're deemed to be 'unclean'. The man continues to conceal his and his dog's arrival by blacking out the windows, shaving his hair and building a litter tray for his four-legged companion. However, their elegant hideout loses its peaceful serenity when a man and a woman find their way in. The woman is rather peculiar, but then so too is this incredibly secretive man, leaving to the audience to decipher who or what they are. Outlaws? Political revolutionaries? Or perhaps merely phantoms, haunting the stairwells and halls of this rural idyll?

Considering the incredible limitations faced by Panahi, it feels harsh to criticise this jarringly self-indulgent drama. Closed Curtain remains engrossing throughout, its contemplative opening and cryptic second act combining subtle expressionism with an exceptionally adorable, film-stealing canine performance. However, the moment Panahi (playing himself) silently enters the fray like an ill-advised cameo, the film's self-reverential aesthetic tips the scales, turning a heavy-handed, yet enjoyable metaphor for his creative repression into an overblown and jarringly personal odyssey. It's just all a little too contrived for a director that's been detained for making subtle political subversive films.

Understandably, the action never leaves the villa, and as characters come and go Panahi paints us a portrait of what it must feel like to be detained from the real world - witnessing society through the screen of a television or the conversation of visitors. In this respect, Closed Curtain is a fascinating examination of the creatively stifling qualities of isolation, yet whilst the film alerts us to this artistic suffocation it feels far more like a sombre and warbling cry for help than action. An allegorical extension of This Is Not a Film, Panahi's follow up is a heartfelt and deeply personal film from a director whose hardships, whilst well-documented, remain incredibly disheartening.

However, sadly the film soon gets lost amongst its metaphysical musings, losing focus and eventually disengaging its audience. An enticing, initially tantalising experiment, Closed Curtain ultimately results in a somewhat flat examination of alienation and creative suppression that only truly serves to makes you more concerned for Panahi's artistically inhibiting situation.

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. For more of our Berlinale coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble
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