Kiarostami Takes a Mirror to Movie-World Fame
Being Mohsen Makhmalbaf
by Michael Atkinson
December 29, 1999 – January 4, 2000
A full decade after its making, Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up emerges from the closed country of Rumored Masterpieces to no doubt pass through our cultural pipes as effectlessly as pork fat through a goose. (Zeitgeist displays admirable holiday spirit distributing it.) The must-see Iranian Godardian knot of a movie, Close-Up is no crowd-pleaser, but neither is it less breathtaking than Godard in his salad days. Most of this year’s best releases—Les Amants du Pont Neuf, Boiling Point, A Moment of Innocence included—have spent lonely years on the market, but Kiarostami’s film has artichoke-like layers which, once peeled, are forever resonant. How simple yet inexhaustible can a filmic text get? Here you have in vitro the ruminative spiral-evolution of Kiarostami’s Quoker “earthquake” trilogy and the mysterian subtractions and realist ellipses of Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us. Seemingly bottomless, Kiarostami’s reflexivity never obscures his deep, aching concern for people. Nobody makes or has ever made movies with such mundane majesty.
Kiarostami began the movie by filming the court case against Hossein Sabzian, an out-of-work Iranian man who, posing as controversial director-celebrity Mohsen Makhmalbaf, insinuates himself into an upper-class Teherani family’s life under the pretense of casting them in a film. Ironically, Kiarostami does cast them here: entire segments of Sabzian’s strange little history with the family are reenacted for the camera, and we’re never clear exactly how much of what we see is true and how much is fiction. The courtroom footage is authentically “real,” but that means little as the cameras emerge as important forces in how Sabzian’s fate is handled by the court and his accusers. Of course, eventually Makhmalbaf himself enters the reenactment fray, as himself.
The hall of mirrors is deep, but it all reflects, humanely, on both Sabzian and his prey’s intoxication with movie-world fame and respect. If Godard was once the giddy Chuck Berry of self-reflexive movie-movie-ness, Kiarostami is the Dylan, moving past the bop and onto the straight goods. Indeed, his unpredictable, and unpredictably moving, investigation into the silent collision between genuine experience and cinema isn’t only about the viewer’s perspective, but Kiarostami’s own. But, like nearly every other Kiarostami film, Close-Up takes questions about movies and makes them feel like questions of life, death, and meaning. He makes movies as if they were the manifest vapor trails of human need, hanging in the air even as we search. Once upon a time, one year or two was all it took for great films to surface; that Pokemon took months, and Close-Up 10 years, is cut-and-dried proof of our craven descent into irrelevance as an educated consumer culture. Any arguments?
The extras on the Criterion Edition include:
* Audio commentary by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum, authors of Abbas Kiarostami
* “Close-up” Long Shot, a documentary on Close-up’s central figure, Hossein Sabzian, six years after the film
* New video interview with Kiarostami
* A Walk with Kiarostami (2003), a documentary portrait of the director by Iranian film professor Jamsheed Akrami