Kirstin Innes finds hope and black comedy in Raving Iran, a story of two young DJs following the beat and defying the authorities.
Midway through Raving Iran, our protagonists, two young Iranian house DJs, Anoosh & Arash, are trying to get a CD of their latest album printed and distributed. They go through the official channels for permission and are turned away; Iran’s strict laws prohibit the distribution of any music that is not traditional, and various aspects of their packaging – Latin typeface, a picture of a man with his back exposed, any depiction at all of their female singer – are turned down. They try an endless succession of printers and then shopkeepers, and time and again they hear the question “is it political?”. No, they say, genuinely baffled each time. It’s just music.
Trying to put on house music parties under a regime when, as the silent opening credits tell us, mixed-sex congregation is forbidden and Westernised music is regarded as “satanic”, Anoosh and Arash (also known as DJ collective Blade and Beard) are politicised despite themselves. Like young people the world over, they’re just trying to have a good time; living in a country where “youth” has been effectively cancelled, their attempts at hedonism have much higher stakes. In order to just be able to play a DJ set for a likeminded group of clubbers, they must organise equipment and partygoers to be transported for hours, through police blockades and with alibis and extortionate bribes, into the desert.
First-time director Susanne Regina Meures never loses sight of the constant sense of danger her young heroes are in – even a teenager playing football outside a window, when viewed through their increasingly paranoid cell phone camera footage, could be a potential spy. The tension doesn’t let up when they are invited to DJ at a massive dance festival in Switzerland, and eventually have to consider whether to seek asylum in order to keep making music.
Raving Iran has been one of the most successful cinema documentaries with German audiences in recent years, reaching over 60,000 viewers – rather unprecedented for a documentary by a debut director featuring no celebrity stars or built-in angle.
Perhaps this is because, despite its very specific circumstances, it’s very easy to identify with Anoosh and Arash. They are rebelling, like all young people do, like anyone involved in any sort of counter-cultural activity does; they’re trying to lose themselves – and their constraints – in the beat.
And because they never give up, because they’re always able to see the ridiculousness of their situation and Meures helps them mine a rich vein of black comedy even amid the paranoia, it’s a film that allows its audience to share in the euphoria of Blade and Beard’s audiences.
Photos by Rise & Shine Cinema