Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Abbas Kiorastami

(A rewrite of a previous written article. Perhaps it is for the best...)

One of the movies that I saw in the Films on Films fest that has had a profound effect on me was Close-Up. I have always heard a lot of these Iranian film makers and this was the first time that I saw one of their films and, to be quite honest, I am very, very impressed. This particular film, based on a real-life incident, tells the story of a man whose love for the films and writing of a particular director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, makes him pretend to be the director and fool a family. Whether it should be called a documentary or a film is a question best answered by the director but for me it is a film because though it documents real-life happennings with real-life people, it does not have the forced nature of a docu-drama.
The gist of the story is that there is this guy, Sabzian, who is arrested at the the beginning of the movie for pretending to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf and is charged with attempted fraud and his subsequent trial reveals several aspects of himself and the influence films have had on him. Through him, the director seeks to present how cinema affects people and gives an argument for making the kind of cinemas that he and Makhmalbaf make.
Sabzian's first words in the movie is "For you, I am just a common crook", which generates audience sympathy for a man who has been misunderstood and framed with a criminal offence. So right at the beginning, without the camera ever showing us the face of Sabzian, we have already developed an affection towards Sabzian; we being the ones who understand the eternal dilemma of the Different who seek to co-exist with others in a rigidly rule-based society and that, obviously, includes everybody. The second time we see him in the film is when Abbas Kiorastami meets him in the prison and he tells him that he did it for his love for cinema and his message to Makhmalbaf is "Your 'The Cyclist' is within me." So, even though the trial is presented in an objective manner with everybody's viewpoints being shown, it is Sabzian's that stands out, not only because his speech occupies the major portion of the trial section of the film but also because the audience is already with him right from the beginning. That is intelligent filmmaking. This is just an instance of the subtle ways that the direcor uses to convey his messages.
The trial ends with the family withdrawing their charges against Sabzian believing that he did not mena to defraud them and that he would lead an honest life after this. Something that the audience is already rooting for them to do.
The genius of this film is that it uses the real people to reenact the incidents preceding his arrest and the usage of the actual trial video of Sabzian. So, there is no artificiality in the happennings of the film. The scene where Makhmalbaf comes to meet Sabzian when he is released and which is shot, apparently, without the knowledge of Sabzian is heart-rendering inspite of the distance between the camera and the subjects and the failure of the microphone pinned to the lapel of Makhmalbaf's coat. In fact, by showing the failure of the microphone along with "we just lost sound. Makhmalbaf's lapel mike is old and there might be a loose connection" shows us the difficulty in shooting real life as unexpected things happen and there is no way to go back and reshoot the scene once more!
There was something that impressed me a lot about this movie and that was the acting done by non-actors. I wondered at the fluidity of their performances and never did I feel that there were acting, which is a hallmark of good acting. Some of these questions is partly answered by Abbas Kiorastami in Ten On Ten where he expounds on his style, philosophy and methodology of filmmaking. He says that he chooses non-actors to play those roles which are close to their own actual self and he does not believe in keeping a written screenplay because a better and more natural performance is gotten by actors when they paraphrase the lines they have told to speak than when they memorize written words. In Close-Up, the people were playing themselves and thus it was easier to give a very natural performance as they were not acting to be someone else. But still non-actors generally tend to become self-conscious in fron of a camera, particularly with a lot of strangers (crew members) working to make the film. I suppose therein lies the skill of the director who is able make the subjects concentrate on their roles rather than be intimidated by their surroundings. An interesting thing that Kiorastami tell us in Ten On Ten is that the digital camera is somehow able to extract natural performances from non-actors, perhaps because of its relatively small size and reduction of crew members that it creates. The handycam seems to be the best way of shooting real people in real settings as it hardly intimidates and requires little skill in using it.
There is no doubt that I want to watch more Iranian films, particularly that of Abbas Kiorastami, the fatehr of Iranian New Wave.
To know more about this man, read this article -
Abbas Kiarostami - Not a Martyr

PS. Hmm... This really has turned out better than the lost post!


pseudonym said...

u missed the very last scene of 10 on Ten, which to me ranks among the best scences of the festival. mind blowing presentation of such a simple fact that a keen viewer will always pull out extrodinary things.
"one who travels will always see things" - heramann hesse

MadHat said...

no, I didn't!

pseudonym said...

no i meant, u mised to mention, thats all :)

MadHat said...

he he!
I mean that I did not 'miss' it!
I left it out for reasons of my own.

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