Outstreched arm

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Good movies end in "-Up"

I used to spend a lot of time at the local library, but an unfortunate incident resulting in more fines than I was willing to pay ended that habit about two years ago; a shame, really. They usually have a small but interesting selection of movies, and today's hunt was excellent. I got Close-Up by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, a wonderfully original exploration of the documentary format, and of moviemaking in general (perhaps even the idea of art).

Sabzian, an unlucky young man with an amateur's love of cinema, befriends the wealthy family Ahankhah by pretending to be Makhmalbaf, a popular Iranian film director. The trick doesn't last long, and Sabzian is arrested and tried while Kiarostami's camera records. Two basic types of scenes are used: actual footage of the trial, and reenactments of events leading up to it. All the individuals involved play themselves, which is cute in more than one way: everyone does a great job, and Sabzian and the Ahankhahs' youngest son initially express a wish to be actors. It's not entirely clear how much of the movie is authentic footage, but Kiarostami likes it that way; he is not attempting to just document Sabzian's troubles. Much grander questions about identity, trust, and representation are on the table.

Sabzian is a particularly likeable character, and Kiarostami admits that this was a challenge; at the outset, it's not easy to sympathize with a man who tricks a family for days with no particular goal in mind. His story of unemployment, divorce, and unfulfilled dreams is hardly what made me feel for him; it was a more gut-level thing than that. He has a positively kind look on his face, and a zen-like (rather than child-like) sincerity.

This is a situation where a cynic might get even more mileage out of the premise; it's not impossible that Sabzian is also acting in the courtroom - after all, if he can do a good job of portraying a man from a different social class altogether, how much easier for him to play an honest loser. As for me, call me credulous if you wish.

Mucho recommended!

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