Friday, March 19, 2010
In his televised interview Kiarostami says to the effect, " I don't know how to make films to cater to Western audiences or to please critics at film festivals. If my films are slow that is what they are meant to be. If they are boring and put you to sleep at least they are kind enough to leave you alone, and not leave you exhausted and knocked out. Films should have a lasting effect, and the effect of a good film starts working immediately after it ends. Some films that have made me doze off in the theater have often kept me awake for nights and thinking about them for weeks afterwards. I don't like films that arouse you emotionally, give advice, belittle you or make you feel guilty. Films that nail you to the seat and overwhelm you leave you feeling cheated. Such films make you a hostage."
This one uplifts you gently like a feather, hovering awhile around a hazy focus, to land you safely back where it picked you up, with infusions to spread lastingly into your mind. Slow and boring are the last thing they are--riveting and unputdownable is a more apt description. Not the least of their merits is the brevity--they never hit a hundred minutes. Kiarostami's films have the delicacy and intricate perfection, of a Persian tapestry, for all the modernity of their setting. They are the easiest to watch, in their almost lazy contemplative style. There is a sequence of a tin-can rolling down a slope and you see it as you might in real life when standing somewhere with nothing to do, except fool around with whatever object is at hand.
Like so many of his other movies, this one is about the movie making process. What can come more naturally to a film-maker who wants to portray the melodies of real life instead of telling stories. Each of his films is different and seems the best of the lot. This certainly is a great film (I hesitate to use words like masterpiece).
It is based on a real life incident involving a person a person having a resemblance to the director Makhmalbaf. After being mistaken for him several times, he is involved in a situation in which he deliberately impersonates him, is discovered, arrested and tried for the fraud. Much of the movie relates to the trial, in which his complex motives for committing a pointless and seemingly ludicrous felony are explored. He comes out not as a criminal but as a sensitive, confused and helpless human being, a floundering vessal in the waves of society. An artist by temperament (quotes Tolstoi in the course of his very competent defense) and unable to sustain his family, he finally breaks into sobs, when embraced by the real (which means the real) Makhmalbaf, saying, "I am tired of being myself." Kiarostami was given permission to film the actual trial and most of the cast, including the impersonator and the family he tried to decieve, are the actual persons involved and many parts of the film are actual footage. Finally the court lets him off, partially because the complainants have decided to "forgive" him (quite unwestern). Finally he is encouraged by Makhmalbaf to continue a normal life.
In the process we get many glimpses of Iranian society, tending to the rosy side because Kiarostami, unlike Makhmalbaf, has chosen to remain in his country, and adjust with the political system, including censorship ( mostly stemming from religious elements like women wearing the head dress), which he says is not a problem for him. Men mostly wear western dress, but no ties. The accused person carries out his own defense. The judiciary seems mild, reasonable and compassionate. Books on cinematography seem available in the native tongue. Women wear the burqua but can sit besides men in buses. Persian, a classical language, seems considerably evolved for the needs of a modern, technological society. Different from western society, perhaps a step or two behind in some respects, but ahead in some others.
My taste for Kiarostami grows as for a wine, and meanwhile this puts me on the trail of Makhmalbaf, another apparently equally acknowledged film maker of Iran.