A swinging look at underground rock music in Tehran and the young hopefuls who make it happen
It took a lot for Iranian-Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi to make a film that outdoes his smash indie hit “Turtles Can Fly” but he has done it with this amazing flick about taking a walk on the wild side of Bagdad. This is the story of a rock band. Rather it is the story of two people looking to start a rock band in a country where such bands are illegal. Freedom of speech in Iran would appear to be limited to mostly mosque music and good old rock and roll is not considered becoming one with Allah.
Musicians Negar and Ashkan want to go the USA to play music where the streets are paved with gold and everybody has a recording contract. OK, let’s put that aside for a moment. The fact is they want to go the US to record CDs to make it big. The only problem is they need money. Some things never change. The part that is specific to Iran is that in order to play music there to earn money to go to America they have to get a music-playing permit. This is because playing rock music in Iran is like owning a machine gun in New York City. Not everyone should be able to do it.
Things take a turn for the better when they meet Nader (Hamed Behdad) the hustler with a heart of gold. Nader assures the two musicians that if they leave everything to him all will be fine. He knows how to get the requisite music-playing permit. Once they have the permit they can earn the money they need to go to America and get their shot at the big time. This sequence of scenes is right out of Sergeant Bilko and a dozen other American classics in which we know there are going to problems, and laughs, big time as the hustler proceeds to hang himself with his own rope.
What follows is a funny assortment of pratfalls including the authorities, underground characters of all shapes and sizes, crazy musicians and street people. This is mixed in with appropriate rock music and intriguing glimpses of Bagdad street life. The Negar and Ashcan characters are charming. They are young and hopeful, just like American musicians are young and hopeful. As for the realism, well, one would want to take that with a grain of salt. One of the hilarious aspects of the film is that the two rockers are so American and so, well, logical. They actually seem to be working things out in their heads instead of getting stoned.
The questions whether or not this sobriety is a fact in Iraq or whether the film had to be made that way to get past the censors. Hard to say but it works in either event.
As the plot progresses more and more desperate measures are required to play the music and get the exit visas. In the end, Nader himself is called upon to make the ultimate choice in order for the show to go on.
Lively sound track and a thoroughly positive message. Not only is the message that music crosses cultural borders better than almost anything but there is the feeling that people everywhere face the same challenges in the end.
Being a rock star is not easy no matter where you do it. If you think you are the only one suffering watch this film and feel differently.
Directed by: Bahman Ghobadi
Written by: Bahman Ghobadi and Hossein Mortezaeiyan
Starring: Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad and Hamed Behdad
Release: April 23, 2010
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 106 minutes