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Quick TIFF Reviews: Closed Curtain (Dir: Jafar Panahi)

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A middle-aged man arrives at a seaside cottage. He closes the doors, hangs heavy black curtains over all of the windows, and then opens a duffle bag to reveal a little brown mutt. Soon thereafter, we learn that in his (unnamed) Islamic Republic, dogs have been banned. For awhile, sealed off behind the curtains, man and dog hide out together in mellow, engaging symbiosis. But, the bubble is burst as a young woman arrives at the door seeking shelter. Where'd she come from? What is she doing here? Where is "here", anyway? Soon, our sense of the "reality" onscreen begins to crack, as layers of metaphor push through the spare narrative.

Of course, this isn't really a film about a man trying to hide a dog. When dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was barred from his profession for 20 years by the regime, he had to get creative. His first post-ban effort (a documentary provocatively titled This Is Not A Film) pushed at the boundaries of the form, exploring the fluidity of creation, and the ultimate porousness of repression. But with Closed Curtain, made on the cheap under hazy circumstances, Panahi ups the ante. A film both revealing and mysterious, Closed Curtain begins as a straightforward fable about a man doing what needs to be done in the face of a bizarre law, but winds up somewhere much more exciting, if infinitely less lucid.

To reveal much more would be to spoil what is a thrillingly complex journey down the rabbit hole, but suffice it to say that fans of Paul Auster, John Barth, and Franz Kafka will be equally well served by this film's approach to narrative and "the author". Shot simply, this intimate, low budget film may be the biggest thing I'll see this week.