Shorties: Finnish Machos and Persian Cats




Freetime Machos

If you're not offended by blond, Finnish, amateur rugby players who have a penchant for blowup dolls, homosexual allusions, the frequent use of "pussy," and a fear of being fired by their employer, Nokia, Mika Ronkainen's affable documentary might just be up your alley. This oddball look at the Oulos, the third lousiest rugby team from their area, clearly argues that men will be men no matter the latitude: "In Finland, you rather get stabbed in the back than complain of female trouble."

Then when exploring a member's exposed behind on a bus ride back from a losing game, one macho asks, "Guy, is that a pimple or a mole?" Another opines, unasked, "Internet porn is better than [the aforementioned] pussy." "Scoring is the biggest problem for us," avows a fourth. The latter surprisingly nonsexual announcement is referring to the team's rugby playing. In fact, the Oulos' first win occurs when the other team doesn't show up. Otherwise, the boys usually realize a zero. A bit too provincial to drum up much interest outside of its home country, this fast-moving offering from the Tribeca Film Festival will, however, strike a chord with anyone involved in Women's Studies with a focus on Scandinavia.

No One Knows About Persian Cats (image above)

"You're not worried about getting busted?"

"We're doing nothing but making music. We're hurting no one."

"Get busted, and you'll go to jail for at least two months."

"No, it's safe here. No need to worry."

Well, it apparently isn't that safe in Tehran for underground musicians who keep finding themselves on the verge of being arrested within this quasi-documentary. And they have it better than the actual filmmakers, several of whom were imprisoned or forced to choose exile after finishing the picture.

Winner of the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Bahman Ghobadi's film pursues two young musicians, Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Askan (Ashkan Koshanejad), as the pair, after being released from prison, try to form a band, raise money, and get passports to perform at a music festival outside of Iraq. While on their quest, they are taken up by a loud-mouthed wheeler-dealer, Nadar (Hamed Behdad), who promises the duo the world and delivers much less.

But before the dispiriting reality of their situation is revealed, this threesome darts about the city, interacting with the police, black-market forgers, and other musicians who are letting loose in song in a wide array of genres. Intercut between performances are fascinating scenes of life in Tehran, showcasing a buoyant people stifling under an intense cultural censorship and numerous curtailed freedoms.

Not as lyrically overwhelming as Ghobadi's previous works, A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) and Turtles Can Fly (2004), the politics of this offering more than make up for that lack.

The title, by the way, refers to the ruling that Iranis can have cats and dogs as pets, but they are not allowed to take the animals outside of their homes -- or else!