Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is one of the most beloved and acclaimed filmmakers on the world cinema stage. I previously watched his Palme D'Or winning masterpiece Taste of Cherry during my foreign film quest last year, and now have followed it up with his 1990 film Close-Up, which was kind of an international coming out party, for both Kiarostami and Iranian cinema. Although initially negatively reviewed in Iran, it was lauded by critics the world over when it began trickling out. While I don't consider it on the level of Taste of Cherry (which I put into my all-time top 50 just recently), Close-Up is a fascinating and brilliant look at a real life case in which a man claimed to be a famous Iranian director, impressed a family, only to have them find out that he wasn't that filmmaker and his subsequent trial for fraud. That may not sound like the most compelling movie, but Kiarostami's genius use of documentary and recreation footage (where the people played themselves), helps give everything an intrigue and strange atmosphere that kept me riveted.
I've seen some talk that apparently the whole movie is actually recreated, either to look like a documentary or to look like a fiction film, but it plays like fiction and non-fiction butting against each other in a very interesting way, so that Kiarostami actually recreated everything is like another level of "what is real and what isn't?" that I haven't been able to process yet. (**after watching an interview with Kiarostami, he says that the trial was all real and the recreations were just recreations, the whole movie wasn't reenacted, just the non-trial portions of the movie**) But the story concerns Hossain Sabzian, a poor print shop worker who is obsessed with the movies, and is intentionally mistaken for famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf while on a bus one day. The woman who mistakes him, Mrs. Ahankhah, does so because he claims to be the filmmaker. But when she introduces him to her family, including her sons who also are passionate about film, the little lie takes on more weight, and Sabzian goes along with it, as this is seemingly the first time anyone has realy listened to him. It makes him feel important instead of poor and worthless. He is listened to, seen, and respected. We can all sympathize with that feeling, I think.
Although he admits to taking some money from the family, that he asked for and they gave, he doesn't see himself as a criminal. He didn't intend to rob the family or anything, I think he was simply a little bit off in the head maybe, and lonely, and in need of the kind of attention he got from the Ahankhah's.
Kiarostami was a master at getting believable and intricate performances from any actor, professional or not. This movie didn't need to be based on a true story for it to work. The "actors" carry the story and its themes perfectly, and it's an emotionally affecting movie in many ways. I will need much more time to fully digest this movie, and I can see myself coming back to it many times over the years. It has a lot to say about the needs of humanity and how we don't often get what we emotionally need. It says a lot about the nature of performance and what kind of performance we are all always giving, even when we're trying not to. Like Taste of Cherry, it's a movie that will stick in my mind and will be there a long time. And I'm thankful for that. Kiarostami made a beautiful and thought provoking movie, just as he did with the previous one I watched.
This began as simply a review of Kiarostami's movie, but sadly it became a bit of a eulogy, as the filmmaker passed away yesterday at the age of 76 due to complications with cancer. He'd traveled much recently, and was in Paris for further treatment when he passed. Legendary director Jean-Luc Godard once said "cinema begins with DW Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami" and Martin Scorsese said "Kiarostami represents the highest level of artistry in the cinema." I agree with those esteemed colleagues of the man, but now have to comfort myself only with the thought that there lie before me many great Kiarostami discoveries.