These are cats that play jazz. Or blues, rap or metal. Iranian Bahman Ghobadi's loose, lo-fi film is a documentary-style commentary about his homeland, tied together with the thinnest narrative. (The film was shot in a couple weeks, and without a permit.)
A young couple -- Negar and Ashkan -- need more musicians to fill out their indie-pop band in order to secure a hard-to-get visa. After enlisting a fast-talking impresario with connections, the three travel around Tehran checking out various musical acts. Needless to say, much of this Western-style music is underground -- in some cases, literally, as bands set up secretly in cellars, rooftops and barns. What's revealed is a surprisingly vibrant scene, albeit one that is tiny and fraught with real danger from the authorities.
Ghobadi (Turtles Can Fly) intercuts musical numbers with on-the-fly footage of ordinary life in Tehran, from giggling teens and wary shrouded women, to homeless encampments and luxury apartments. Much of his critique is unspoken, but the utter ridiculousness of having to assemble a pop band in secret easily explicates the tensions, machinations and risks of living in a restricted society. But it's not all gloom: Ghobadi finds plenty of dark humor in Iran's convoluted state, including a virtuoso scene when one member of the crew is arrested, and another in which the merits of Al Pacino's forbidden film oeuvre are debated. In Farsi, with subtitles. Starts Fri., June 25. Harris (Al Hoff)