Saturday, June 4, 2011

#519: Close-up

(Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

Close-Up is an enigma, a film that is simultaneously the vanguard of the post-modern response to the cinema and an immaculate conception of an isolated film culture. Abbas Kiarostami is probably the most famous director to come out of Iran - though he rose to fame during the 1990s, a decade full of astonishing output for a country that was and remains to this day an extremely difficult environment for expression. Yet in comparison with some of his contemporaries - Majid Majidi who made Children of Heaven, for example - Kiarostami rejects the neorealist tendencies found most often in work produced in countries which have a less developed cinema system.

Close-Up is Kiarostami's masterpiece by most accounts, and while I can only compare it to A Taste of Cherry, I certainly agree that it is a towering work. Mixing documentary footage and reenactments featuring the actual people who experienced the moments the first time around, Close-Up tells the story of a man put on trial for claiming to be a famous Iranian director, thus gaining the trust and respect (and potentially money) of a well-to-do family. The plot shifts back and forth between the real-life trial of the man and the recreated backstory of his deception and subsequent arrest. It features both the journalist who wrote an article detailing the crime and Kiarostami himself, asking for permission to film the trial.

What's most interesting about Kiarostami's work from a Western perspective is the complex interplay between the familiarity of his meta themes and the foreign nature of both his setting and culture and -much more importantly - his cinematic language. Close-Up - which is primarily concerned with cinema vs. reality, making it Kiarostami's quintessential work - might seem gimmicky from an American director, primarily because the temptation to tie the film's themes to the greater culture at large would be too great. But Kiarostami's film is such an unqualified success because it is stubbornly contained and oddly personal. I found myself moved both by the characters (slash subjects) of the film and by the film's interaction with my expectations. Close-Up manages to appeal to the heart and the head in such a primal way that it avoids the greatest trap of meta work - that it becomes too clever for its own good.

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