Kino Keeno

"Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates…"

Tag: Iran

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.

LFF 2015: Taxi Tehran

by Ben Diamond

Taxi Tehran (Panahi 2015, 82m)

What’s it like to be an outlaw in the film world?  Jafar Panahi should know.  He was banned from making films for twenty years by the Iranian government in 2010.  That hasn’t stopped him, though.  He made This Is Not a Film in 2011, shot on an iPhone inside his apartment, a creative re-imagining of the film he wanted to make before he received the ban.  The film was reported to have been smuggled to the Cannes film festival on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake.  And now we have Taxi Tehran.  Panahi moves from the prison of his own apartment to the open prison of the city itself.  I find the whole conceit of this film deeply amusing – Panahi moonlighting as a cabbie (what use is a film-maker who can’t make films?) for some extra cash during his state-enforced creative dry spell, but at the same time engaging in his altruistic tendencies – in good spirits for most of the film, he waives his passengers’ fares.  The taxi itself becomes a space for dialogue, exploration and interrogation.

This is a film which starts playing games on the audience from the very first minute and never lets up.  Panahi has set many tricks and traps which force us to consider what a film is.  The first two people to get in his cab have an argument about crime and punishment (what else is there?).  It feels like a documentary.  But the third observer in the back of the cab, after the other two have left, challenges Panahi, says he recognises him as a filmmaker, that the other two must have been actors, and that the speech one of them delivered was very similar to that of another character in one of his previous films, Crimson Gold.  But, of course, this man is also an actor.  Deceptively simple in concept, Panahi actually, upon consideration, appears to have created a piece of art which performs daring feats of intellectual somersaults.  And underlying it all is a real sense of dread, and menace – despite no violence or threat occurring onscreen, the feeling that Panahi is being watched and shaped by hostile forces is ever present.  This opening scene is a good example of the film’s dizzying dance around the ideas of what is planned, what is unplanned, and who is in control of the script – Panahi?  Or is he simply trying to capture things that are out of his control?

Panahi’s most important passenger is his young niece.  She has a camera of her own and has been instructed to make a short film as part of a school project.  But her teacher has issued the class with a whole list of instructions – what she can’t film, what the protagonist should look like, what the content of the film should be.  Panahi leaves his taxi at one point and the footage switches to his niece’s camera – she tries to capture something herself.  But it doesn’t go to plan – so she starts to direct the young boy she is filming from the window of the taxi – which goes horribly wrong.  Of course, once again, what is real and not real is blurred.  The whole thing is scripted and planned, surely?  By now, we are so far down the rabbit hole of films within films that a thrilling fog has shrouded all intentions and meanings in the film.  But Panahi’s deep, deep meditation as he switches his focus to the young girl – the next generation of filmmakers, who will all grow up with smartphones capable of filming anything, all the time – radiates from Tehran outwards.