Via Chicago
— Errata Movie Podcast —

OK, having praised The Believer in the previous entry, to restore the order of the universe I will now pick a nit.

In the most recent issue, August 2003, Dorna Khazeni's introduction to her interview with Shirin Neshat includes this comment:

When the award-winning director Abbas Kiarostami finished making his film The Wind Will Carry Us in 1999, he stated that he wanted to make films like Shirin Neshat's. Since then, he has made Ten, by far his most experimental feature to date....

I liked Ten quite a bit, but I'm not sure how to measure it such that it comes out as Kiarostami's most experimental feature. By far?

Let's see, Kiarostami is the guy who made the straightforward tale Where is the Friend's House, but then made Life and Nothing More which was a dramatization of his attempt to return to the village where he filmed Where is the Friend's House after a devastating earthquake to check on the inhabitants (and the actors of the earlier movie). In Life and Nothing More, an actor plays Kiarostami, driving to the village from Tehran with his son. In typical Kiarostami fashion, the movie ends before he finds the people he's looking for, because in Kiarostami's movies, the journey is the reward. But in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the movie draws parallels between city and rural life and contrasts the importance of movies with the importance of food, water, shelter, communication, and companionship.

Then he made Through the Olive Trees which is a dramatization of the making of Life and Nothing More, which you recall was itself a recreation. An actor plays Kiarostami directing the actor who played Kiarostami previously, and so on. Kiarostami has frequently blurred the lines between filming and being filmed, between acting and re-enacting, and between playing a character and playing oneself. Though rarely seen on camera, his presence is strongly felt. Often, people in these movies who are having conversations are having them with Kiarostami, but through editing tricks they appear to be speaking to someone else, a character in the movie.

For Close-Up, Kiarostami seized on a real event: a man in Iran had recently been arrested for impersonating real-life filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The man had convinced a family that he wanted to use them in his next film. He met with them at their home and rehearsed with them until they eventually figured out that he was not Makhmalbaf. They called the cops. They assumed he was a thief using an elaborate hoax to case their house.

To make a movie about the episode, Kiarostami used the actual people involved — the man and the family — and had them reenact key events. He shows footage of the trial and, in a moving sequence near the end, stages a surprise meeting between the man and Makhmalbaf. Close-Up explores the sad life of a man who is not a thief but rather looks up to movie makers so much that he slips into a fantasy, catching a family in his reality distortion field, a family nearly as enthralled by movie magic as he is. The extra level of irony — that these people who wanted to be in a movie made by a famous filmmaker now are in a movie by a famous filmmaker — enhances this poetic exploration of how movies are a part of our lives, something that movies seldom acknowledge, much less explore.

Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation looks like a self-absorbed stunt compared to such an inspired, hall-of-mirrors work like Close-Up.

Ten is a series of conversations that take place in a car driven by a woman in Tehran. We see her conversations with her son, her sister, and other people who cross her path. It's experimental, no doubt, but I'd argue that it's the most accessible of the six Kiarostami features that I've seen since Where is the Friend's House.

Posted by davis | Link