Iranian Filmmaker Defies Ban; Mystery Girl: Berlin Movies

The Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has experienced arrest and imprisonment and is now subject to a 20-year ban from traveling or making movies.

He shot “Closed Curtain” secretly and smuggled it to the Berlin Film Festival, where it is competing with 18 others for the Bear awards. Filmed entirely in a villa on the coast, it explores his current frustrating predicament and the politics of repression from a number of different angles.

Given the circumstances under which it was made, I wish I could call it a great movie. Sadly it’s mainly dull, with long, drawn-out sequences of people making tea, wandering from one room to the next, closing curtains or opening them again. Without knowing the back story, “Closed Curtain” would make no sense at all.

It opens with a view of the ocean through a wide, barred window, a captive’s perspective on freedom. A scriptwriter, played by Panahi’s co-director Kamboziya Partovi, arrives at the villa with his gorgeous dog, Boy, in a bag.

Under this Iranian regime, dogs are persecuted as “impure,” and the writer is afraid of losing his. In the most charming scene of the movie, Boy watches TV with his ears cocked in bewilderment as pictures of dogs being rounded up and killed flash across the screen.

The writer is startled when a young couple enters the house, on the run from the authorities after a party. The girl stays, yet she appears to be a figment of the filmmakers’ imagination as the movie progresses.

Daybreak Arrival

Panahi himself arrives at daybreak: Cue cups of tea, unremarkable comings and goings and a complete lack of plot or tension.

Panahi is capable of making entertaining and important movies: His film “Offside,” about Iranian women trying to get into a soccer match, was a worthy winner of a Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert this week urged the Iranian government to allow Panahi to travel to Berlin to present “Closed Curtain,” saying that freedom for artists is a question of human rights.

More importantly, let’s hope he is permitted to get back to making films as soon as possible. Rating: *.

‘Best Offer’

In “The Best Offer,” Geoffrey Rush plays Virgil Oldman, a famous auctioneer who cordons himself off from the rest of the world, wearing gloves to avoid contact with people.

Immaculately groomed, he derives emotional fulfillment from his secret collection of beautiful portraits of women, hidden in a vast vault in his apartment.

Until, that is, a fascinating young woman starts calling him, asking him to value her parents’ possessions. Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks) refuses to meet him, claiming acute agoraphobia. Yet he is irresistibly drawn to her mystery.

With lush photography, priceless paintings and a constant question mark hanging over what is genuine and what is fake, this is an intriguing and sophisticated film from director Giuseppe Tornatore, best known for “Cinema Paradiso.”

He keeps the setting vague -- the cars have Vienna number plates, but the villa looks Italian and all the characters speak English. This actually works fine in a movie where art, illusion and authenticity are recurring themes.

Oldman can spot a forged painting instantly and makes news by discovering new masterpieces. Yet he is also dishonest: He profits from his own expertise by conspiring with Billy (Donald Sutherland) to suppress the value of paintings he wishes to acquire for his secret vault.

Rush manages to make his prickly, effete, inaccessible lead character sympathetic. He even makes us want to believe his passion for a woman 40 years younger is returned.

Rating: ***½.

The Berlin Film Festival runs through Feb. 17. For more information, go to https://www.berlinale.de/en

What the Stars Mean:
***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars, Scott Reyburn on the art market and Rich Jaroslovsky on technology.

To contact the reporter on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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