Saturday, 28 November 2009


My first Kiarostami film. A treatment of the classic question - how is reality and cinema related? Is cinema a reflection of reality - at once unadorned and inverted - or is it an embellished reenactment of truth? And how far can the convergence of reality and cinema be taken?

Here is a man, Sabzian, who impersonates a famous film-maker, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (an Iranian New-Wave contemporary of Kiarostami), and pretends to be interested in a film project involving the members of a family he meets by chance during a bus-ride. He visits the family, gains their confidence (save the father's, who maintains an amicable skepticism), starts rehearsing with the younger son - who has an interest in art and cinema - for a supposed film-role. All this is not staged - the incidents are real, the actors in the film are the characters. When the family begins to suspect Makhmalbaf's authenticity, they call in a journo friend who knows Makhmalbaf. Sabzian is arrested on charges of fraud, and his story is covered by the journo Farazmand. Kiarostami's involvement begins with him reading the article, and seeking consent from all parties involved to shoot the trial.

What is apparent about the film is that it can be clearly divided into two parts - the courtroom sequence, which does not seem re-enacted, and the background story which is quite clearly re-done (considering the point of arrival of Kiarostami). All this however transcends the questions of physical reality as represented on celluloid, even though it is not exactly clear on the point (why for example are some of the principals listed as themselves on the credits, while some of the peripheral roles, like the judge in the court, not done likewise?). The deeper and more engaging matter is Sabzian's assumed idenity of Makhmalbaf - a man whom he admires and aspires to be, whose cinema he identifies with and loves. His impersonation is thereby an extension of, and some would say the very peak of, method acting - "getting into somebody's skin", thinking and feeling like the character one portrays. While the moral gray-area is never beyond question, it is brought into light that the momentary impulse which prompted him to forge a new identity was a harmless one - he wanted a meal for the day with the family, and that was all!

The catharsis at the end is Makhmalbaf's meeting with his impersonator - artist and admirer embracing, kindred souls rejoicing in each other's company. The parting freeze-frame suddenly recalls another iconic freeze-frame from another New-Wave, Antoine Doinel's first view of the sea in 400 Blows. A film common in theme and tone, if not treatment, to Close-Up - both being infused with warmth for man, and tangential irreverence for social norms.

The lighthearted irony is that the 'crime' is what unites Sabzian and Makhmalbaf, and what gives shape to this excellent film!

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