SynopsisWhen Iranian singer Shahin Najafi releases a satirical rap song about a revered imam, outraged hardline clerics issue a fatwa calling for his death. Though temporarily sheltered by the same German journalist who once gave refuge to Salman Rushdie, Shahin refuses to spend a decade in hiding,
“I’m a musician,” he says. “I have to perform.”
As the exiled voice of Iran’s youth, he gets caught in an impossible romance with Leili Bazargan, granddaughter of the first Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini. With such family backgrounds, Shahin and Leili become a modern day Romeo & Juliet, caught in the storm of international terrorism, Europe’s refugee crisis and global anxiety about the increasingly violent clash between art and religion.
“My songs didn’t make me famous. The fatwa did.” When God Sleeps unfolds against the backdrop of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks in the Bataclan concert venue and European right-wing backlash against Middle-Eastern refugees. It deftly weaves the journey of exiled Iranian musician Shahin Najafi with historical context and intimate biographical detail, rooting the narrative in Najafi’s immediate and unavoidable reality, living under a fatwa issued against him by hardline Shiite clerics. As Najafi juggles a personal life and budding romance in Cologne, far from loved ones, with a professional career whose high profile may cost him his life, he spars with bandmates who are ambivalent about the peril his status places on their lives, and battles German police who refuse to see the death threat on his head as a legitimate danger. With camerawork that underlines the intimate aspect of this film, we bear witness to the life of an outspoken artist defying powerful men intent on silencing him. (Cara Cusumano, Director of Programming for the Tribeca Film Festival)