Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami 1940-2016)

by Ben Diamond


Close-Up (Kiarostami 1990, 98m)

It’s always sad when a musician or director dies, but art has an interesting relationship with the thanatotic, because, if anything, a great artist becomes immortalised through death.  The sadness, I feel, comes in part from the fact that their current filmography or discography ossifies – there is no longer the potential for one last great film, one last great album.  But, in a strange way, everything about an artist that is superfluous to the consumer, the things that they shared with all other, less brilliant humans – their daily routines and doctor’s appointments and trips to the supermarket – fade away, leaving the most important part behind: the work.  The body might fail but the spirit intensifies.

And so it is often the case that I take the opportunity to become acquainted with a filmmaker after they die, when the inevitable retrospectives roll into town.  Having seen none of Kiarostami’s films, I was pleased to see that the ICA (and I should really do a post some time about how the two most important cinemas to sign up to as a member in London are the ICA and the BFI) were doing a few screenings of Close-Up.

As an aside, I have found it more difficult to keep up seeing and writing about films since starting work full-time.  I find I have to have an espresso (least liquid = least likely to need to go to the toilet) before a film if I go after work now, otherwise I’ll focus all my attention on not falling asleep rather than the film itself.  Also, I don’t know why, considering it’s not much fun going to the cinema in hot weather, but these last few weeks I’ve had a solid run (The Neon Demon, Notes on Blindness, Queen of Earth).

Close-Up (‘based on a true story’) is about a man who gets arrested for impersonating a film director, or rather for taking a family along for a ride in thinking that he is a famous film director.  The film flits between the court case and his interactions with the family who believed he was who he said he was.

It’s a difficult film to unpack.  My main observation would be that the whole court case, where the judge seeks to determine his reasons for pretending to be a famous artist, shows:

  1. Impersonation can have its own authenticity
  2. Impersonation can be an artistic act
  3. If you try and channel the brilliance of another, that can have transcendental results
  4. It is very hard to explain or justify something you have done, outside of the act – the act speaks for itself

That will probably only make sense for those who have seen the film, and if you haven’t – check it out, it’s very cool.

I found the endless justifications as to why this man pretended to be a director fascinating.

I could also see links and connections with all sorts of other films and directors.  The car scenes – the way the camera was mounted on the bonnet and the way the conversations unfolded – reminded me of Kiarostami’s contemporary, and fellow countryman, Jafar Panahi.  The combination of driving and trial scenes must surely have influenced Nuri Bilge Ceylan, especially in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.  And the authenticity/inauthenticity theme also reminded me of the whole subplot involving a child passing a Pink Floyd cover off as his own in The Squid and the Whale.

When the impostor meets the person he’s been pretending to be at the end, the malfunctioning lapel mic doesn’t allow us to properly hear what passes between the two.  A postmodern trick to end a very postmodern film.