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Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad in "No One Knows About Persian Cats," a film about Iran's "underground" music scene.

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS — ★★1/2 — Ashkan Koshanejad, Negar Shaghaghi, Hamed Behdad; with English subtitles (Persian dialects); not rated, probable PG-13 (profanity, slurs, violence, vulgarity, brief gore); Broadway Centre

It might have been a better idea for the makers of "No One Knows About Persian Cats" to make a straightforward documentary.

Instead, they've chosen to combine some documentary aspects with a semi-fictional story, using some real-life musicians as at least two of the main characters.

This bit of artifice is confusing, and these fictional trappings aren't nearly as interesting as the nonfictional portions.

Besides, there is plenty of "real" material to work with anyway. "Persian Cats" looks at musicians who are currently part of Iran's "underground" music scene — some of whom continue to practice and play under the threat of punishment and torture.

In addition to showcasing nearly a dozen bands, co-screenwriter/director Bahman Ghobadi also looks at a young couple, Ashkan and Negar (Ashkan Koshanejad and Negar Shaghaghi).

These two are trying to find other band members — the goal of which is to play in London as part of a spotlight concert.

An added perk of that — getting their visas would allow them to leave Iran and possibly defect.

It's clear that Ghobadi must have seen "Once," the charming 2006 musical drama, judging by the way he focuses on Koshanejad and Shaghaghi.

They're not nearly as talented or engaging as that other film's leads were, and the only times the fictional story really resonates is when supporting performer Hamed Behdad is on the screen.

Watching his character plead to a judge to avoid punishment for his actions is fascinating.

And it is fun to watch the real-life Iranian bands play in a variety of styles (including jazz, heavy metal, supposed "indie rock" and rap).

"No One Knows About Persian Cats" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for scattered strong profanity, derogatory language and slurs (some based on country of origin, nationality, ethnicity and religious beliefs), brief strong violent content and imagery (police brutality and a violent tumble), some suggestive language and references (as well as a vomiting gag), and some brief bloody imagery. Running time: 107 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com