Pardé (Closed curtain, 2013): an allegory of insurgency

Pardé (Closed curtain, 2013), by Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi, is an irresolute allegory. Its basis is a set of exaggerated metaphors. The camera remains imprisoned within Panahi's beach house, while the cryptic narrative unfolds.

In part, the film's interest lies in the irresoluteness of its allegorical figures. Considering its complexity, one can say that it also stems from the double irreducibility of the work. On the one hand, Pardé is irreducible to the literal reference of the context which motivates it. On the other, it is also irreducible to the symbolic drift in which it plunges, like the characters which go towards the Caspian See.

Pardé seeks to go beyond the context of Panahi's conviction to 6 years of domestic prison. He is also prohibited from making films, writing film scripts, leaving Iran and giving interviews. Such information belongs to his previous film, This is not a film (2011). Pardé remains silent about those issues, by not naming them and by rarefying their constitutive imprint under the form of metaphor and allegory.

Metaphor and allegory cross the film's plot and entail a symbolic regime of interpretation. Yet, its meaning is not closed and its senses are not fully revealed. The spectator faces the impossible task of deciphering the irresolute code which guides the film.

Part of the fascination and the prestige surrounding This is not a film and Pardé stems from their underground origin. It is underground that Panahi finds some possibility of expression. Underground, the director finds some refuge in the exile from himself to which he was convicted. Underground, he finds some escape from the political persecution which took him hostage, at least, since 2010.

Indeed, for the director, filmmaking seems a sort of therapy, even if he doesn't make films. Each work reveals its incomplete and endless nature, even each one is finished, that is, signed and published, awarded and praised, in the urgency of denouncing the disregard for freedom of expression perpetrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In This is not a film, the work of fiction opens up the documentary configuration of the mise en scène to the potency of imagination. In Pardé, the fictional consistence unfolds into a metalinguistic approach, by means of a documentary register. Insofar as it is metalinguistic, Pardé distances itself from reality.

On the one hand, documentary becomes fiction, for the claim of imagination which is characteristic of fiction comes to haunt the documentary record. On the other, fiction becomes documentary, since the former's flow stops and the circular closure which seemed to announce its meanings ends up fractured by the persisting reality of the images we see.

In the exaggeration of metaphors, one can recognize the incompleteness of Pardé, as if one needed to fulfill the allegory's lack of closure with an excess of meaning. The gaps in the plot, the opacities in the symbology and the empty areas of the narrated fable are overflown by the metaphorical excess. Thus, its interpretation becomes necessarily equivocal, unsteady, uncertain.

Part of the meaning of the metaphors seems related to that therapeutic dimension which cinema has taken on for Panahi. In this sense, both main characters are comparable to mirrors in which the director can recognize his own traces. This makes possible every sort of psychological or psychoanalytic readings of Pardé.

There is a writer (played by Kambuzia Partovi). He arrives at the house in the beginning, with a dog he calls Boy, hidden in a suitcase, and he starts writing only after closing all the curtains and covering the windows with dark fabric. In his fearful and insecure figure, the film discloses a metaphor of retreat, fear and confinement, as well as the underground endurance of the desire to create.

There is Melika (played by Maryam Mogadam), the woman who seeks refuge in the house. She escaped the police with her brother, and she remains in the house while he goes out searching for a car. In her impulsive and restless figure, the film discloses a metaphor of insurgency, resistance and unconformity.

When Panahi becomes part of the plot, walking through the same spaces in which the writer and Melika are, the director's presence does not lead to any sort of dramatic confrontation. Instead, it entails a metalinguistic turn. Panahi does not appear in the same shots as the writer and Melika. The three characters remain in a sort of silent dialogue, in which the space of the beach house turns into a psychic geography, a metaphor for Panahi's mind.

Once the house becomes a metaphor for the mind, the English title Closed curtain takes a thought-provoking polissemy. Curtains are literally what allows the writer to try to close himself, as well as he dog, to the world. In the metaphorical drift of the symbology which goes through the film narrative, curtains become allegorical signs whose dramatic itinerary is invested with political meanings.

In a certain way, the closed curtains represent an interrupted spectacle, like a theater whose curtains are kept closed, with no confrontation against the prohibition imposed by censorship. In this sense, when Melika takes down the curtains and throw them on the ground, the film is proposing a metaphor for the continuity of spectacle, despite the power of censorship.

Besides covering the windows, curtains and all the fabric veil some of the house walls, in which Melika's gesture discloses Panahi's film posters. In spite of them being often read as a sign of self-congratulatory narcissism, the posters may be better understood as part of Panahi's mental stage, which is metaphorically represented by the space of the house, as I argued before.

What is at stake in the posters is not Panahi's passion for his own reflection, suggested by the comparison with Narcissus bewilderment when seeing his own image reflected in the lake, but the search for some image, in which Panahi would be able to find himself. Just like the writer and Melika mirror traces of Panahi's personality, divided between fearful retraction and insistent resistance, between inner withdrawal and combative insurgency, the posters represent the memory of his work.

The subjective split which defines the confrontation between the two characters is reproduced in relation to the posters and the memory they represent. On the one hand, Panahi's work is protected in the shadows, inside the house: the writer tries to close the domestic space against the instability of the world, so that he can continue writing. On the other hand, the director's work has to become visible, and its memory disclosed, between the world's lights: Melika opens a fracture inside the house, in whose space the world insists on making itself present, inavoidable, disturbing artistic creation, writing, the film narrative and its symbology.

The conflicts between the characters and the oscillation between keeping the memory in the shadows and making it visible are not, however, mere phantasy, imprisoned within Panahi's mind. Indeed, one of his neighbors shows up, and he is worried about the lights, which were on the night before the director arrived. The neighbor is also worried about the broken window and Panahi's safety, but the latter does not want to file any complaint with the police.

When Pardé ends, the window is fixed and the house is tidy, and the curtains remain open, as Panahi closes the gate and moves away towards the shore, retracing the path the writer crossed in the film's initial shot. The apparent symmetry hides a deep disjunction between the fictional staging which gave the film its first impulse and the documentary mise en scène which surrounds its last part. The camera remains inside the house. The sea covers the background, while Panahi's car moves off screen. The exaggerated metaphors remain opaque, while the irresolute political allegory of the film narrative waits some form of decryption.

Sou professor de história e teoria do cinema da Faculdade de Comunicação da UFBA, em Salvador, desde maio de 2017. Criei o incinerrante em setembro de 2009, e desde então o site abriga alguns traços das minhas atividades como professor, pesquisador, crítico, curador e programador. Também criei, junto com a minha companheira, a Juliana (<3), um projeto chamado a quem interessar possa, que a gente começou em abril de 2016. Se quiser saber mais sobre mim, pode começar com a breve apresentação e os links que coloquei aqui.