I’ve watched this before, and both times I knew the general idea (documentary footage is being faked, people involved in real events are restaging them for the camera), but I was noticing this time how in some movies Kiarostami never tips his metafictional hand. We know from interviews and DVD extras that the movie theater (and the movie) never existed in Shirin, that the drivers and riders of Ten were never in the car at the same time, and that everyone in Close-Up is performing the role of themselves, but you can’t necessarily tell these things when watching the films.

Farazmand is a reporter who hears about a man (Sabzian) impersonating Mohsen Makhmalbaf, receiving money from a middle-class family while acting like he’s prepping a film shoot. He arranges to get Zabzian arrested for this, after which AK visits the man in jail and records his court date, discussing his intentions in pretending to be a filmmaker.

When Sabzian is interviewed by Kiarostami, realizing AK knows the real Makhmalbaf:

In the commentary, Rosenbaum calls it “a film about impersonation” right as Farazmand is telling the taxi driver and policemen that he aspires to be a famous journalist while he’s clearly unprepared (can’t find the house, not enough cash for the cab, didn’t bring a tape recorder). They discuss how the film is called Close-Up when Kiarostami loves to film in long-shot.

Asking directions from turkey man while looking for the Ahankhah house:

They also discuss the dead time and story distractions, how the film spends time in turn with almost every character.

JR: “Most people would agree that the members of the family come off overall less sympathetically than Sabzian does … they’re more defensive.” His co-commentarian Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa says the rumor is the family originally did not withdraw their complaint against Sabzian, but later agreed to do so for the film. She also says that Sabzian points out that because of Close-Up, the family did in fact get to be in a film as he promised them. Even these experts don’t know whether the filmed trial is real or staged.

The Complainants:

I get the two sons confused, but can you blame me?

JR: Many of Kiarostami’s films from here on are “about the unequal relationship between filmmakers and the people they’re filming who are much poorer and are relatively powerless”.

Two Makhmalbafs:

JR: “I think the real subject of this film … is not impersonation or fraud, it’s the social importance of cinema and how it affects everything – how it affects things socially, how it affects people’s sense of power, their sense of ethics, their sense of identity … and their sense of truth, and perhaps truth is the thing that gets the most severe unpacking in this film.”

Fourth of July memorial screening for the great Abbas Kiarostami.

As mentioned before, the rosetta stone document that kicked off my art cinema craze was Jonathan Rosenbaum’s top-ten of the 1990’s article, including his thoughts on The Wind Will Carry Us. In 2004 and 2005 I watched every Kiarostami movie I could scrounge from the Videodrome shelves on DVD and VHS. I can’t say I loved them unconditionally and wanted to watch them again and again, but I can definitely say that I shared some of AK’s fascinations, that Close-Up and ABC Africa expanded my ideas of what cinema could do, and I was increasingly impressed by his artistry. In the past year or so, we’ve lost three filmmakers from Rosenbaum’s list of ten: Akerman and Oliviera, and now Kiarostami.

R. Koehler:
[Kiarostami] frequently stated in interviews that his open endings — most starkly experienced in the dense blackness of the final moments of Taste of Cherry — are his invitation to the audience to work at finishing the film for themselves.

He doubles down on the idea of viewers finishing the film for themselves in Shirin, a film visually composed of close-ups of women watching a film, which we hear in its entirety on the soundtrack.

J. Naremore in Film Quarterly:

The result is a metafilm of considerable richness, giving us the opportunity to “see” a movie in our minds as we watch the play of emotion across women’s faces and become conscious of our own role as cinematic spectators.

Opened out of competition in Venice with 35 Shots of Rum and The Beaches of Agnes, but too experimental to get a full theatrical run here. I’ve previously watched Kiarostami’s Cannes short Where Is My Romeo, made from this same material (but with a different soundtrack).

The DVD extra was made by Shirin producer Hamideh Razavi and lacks the artistry of 10 on Ten, but it’s fascinating to see how exactly Shirin was assembled – first each actor was filmed separately, looking at placeholder images lit with handmade flickering effects, then the “film” was created in an audio booth. Kiarostami talks about capturing natural expressions, but he also gives detailed direction for these non-performances. By the time we get to the editing phase, the short doc runs out of steam and the subtitlers quit early.

“It is up to you to define the movie for yourself.”

Other times, he suggests what the women might be watching.

“Those of you who are more experienced know love is always threatened by disappointment, that’s why you don’t show your joy much. Like most classic love stories, it has a tragic end, a certain disappointment which is itself a kind of satisfaction.”

Rosenbaum on Shirin:

One might even say that Kiarostami, an experimental, non-commercial filmmaker par excellence, is perversely granting the wish of fans and friends who have been urging him for years to make a more “accessible” film with a coherent plot, a conventional music score, and well-known actors.

AK:

I think I’ve come very late to this exploration of women’s issues… Leaving women out of my films was not a very intelligent decision. I made this discovery rather late, but there it is, I have made it.

Not gonna run through the whole cast on IMDB, but just limiting to actors with headshots, I see Taraneh Alidoosti (an Asghar Farhadi regular, title role in About Elly), Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson, Chicken With Plums, Rosewater), Leila Hatami (star of A Separation), Behnaz Jafari (Blackboards) and Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy). Good to see that at least one woman in the audience also worked on the soundtrack, so was “watching” herself.

Maybe Taraneh Alidoosti:

Maybe Leila Hatami:

AK quoted by Rosenbaum:

I believe in a cinema which gives more possibilities and more time to its viewer — a half-fabricated cinema, an unfinished cinema that is completed by the creative spirit of the viewer, [so that] all of a sudden we have a hundred films.

Also watched:
Roads of Kiarostami (2006)

Road photos, crossfaded, the camera moving along the photos to trace the paths of the roads. Soft music for the most part, with some AK VO explaining that he mostly takes photos of roads and paths, and reading us road-related poetry.

Roads was part of a festival commemorating the anniversary of the WWII atomic attacks.

Kiarostami, speaking with B. Ebiri:

Many of my photographs, they tell stories in a way: They’re fictional, as far as a photo can be. In my films, though, I’m the opposite; I try to get farther away from narrative and try to bring an experimental, visual art element to it. And the poems are very often evocative of image or atmosphere. So there’s definitely interaction between the different forms. And at any rate, they’re all products of the same mind — even if sometimes it doesn’t show on the surface.

Back to Shirin, and Kiarostami’s work in general…

Rosenbaum, from his Taste of Cherry article entitled Fill in the Blanks, one of his all-time greats:

Much of what’s been called innovative in the art of movies over the past half century has at first been seen by part of the audience as boring or as representing a loss — usually because it has somehow redefined the shape and function of narrative … If the major additions to film art offered by Antonioni, Bresson, Godard, Rivette, and Tati — as well as by Chantal Akerman, Carl Dreyer, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Bela Tarr — are at times perceived as subtractions, this is because we tend to bring old habits with us when we go to movies. New habits are unlikely to be formed without some conflict, during which various kinds of seduction and frustration will vie for supremacy … Lately I’ve come to realize that what I regard as the most wondrous thing to happen in cinema in many years, Kiarostami’s movies, strikes a few friends and colleagues as boring and empty, even predictable … I’ve gradually come to think that these disagreements revolve mainly around the issue of why what seems to be essential information in Kiarostami’s narratives is missing. Parts of the sound track in some of the latter portions of Homework and Close-up, for instance, have been suppressed (openly in the first case, and surreptitiously — by faking a technical glitch — in the second). Audience expectations about where the camera goes — and what it finds — are deliberately flouted in Close-up, Where Is My Friend’s House?, and Life and Nothing More. And we’re kept so far away from pivotal bits of action in the closing sequences of Life and Nothing More and Through the Olive Trees that we have to imagine part of what’s taking place — the sound as well as the images. In each case, we’re forced to fill in the blanks as best we can — an activity that isn’t merely part of Kiarostami’s technique but part of his subject. In the most literal and even trivial sense, we are what Kiarostami’s movies are about.

R. Koehler with context:

I would argue that it’s the immensely powerful minimalist features of his contemporary, Sohrab Shaheed Saless — especially A Simple Event and Still Life – that imprint the most visible stamp on the features and shorts that Kiarostami went on to make in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Like never before among Iranian directors, Saless’ storylines and images are stripped away to their essentials, fixed shots are extended to produce the effect of lived-in experience, and ironically sly humor pokes its head up when you least expect it. It was a particularly rigorous modernism, which Kiarostami embraced and adapted to suit his own ends.

D. Ehrlich:

Arguably modern cinema’s most provocatively self-reflexive auteur … his films are so widely cherished in part because they encourage audience participation where lesser directors might simply punish casual spectatorship … For such a committed gamesman, Kiarostami’s films are imbued with a rare emotional lucidity, and yet they still steadfastly undermine the traditional dynamic of film acting, so that any outward show of emotion is first a representation of that emotion before it can be received as an expression of it.

The Film Stage reported at the end of last year that Kiarostami’s next film, composed of tableaux blue-screen shorts, was almost finished. The movie after that, to be named after his own book of poetry, was supposed to be shot in China a month or two before his death, but I suspect that didn’t happen.

Reminder that AK was denied access to the US to present Ten in New York.
In protest, Aki Kaurismaki didn’t attend either, via the Times:

If the United States authorities do not want “an Iranian, they will hardly have any use for a Finn either,” he wrote. “We do not even have the oil.”

Kiarostami, on filming outside of Iran:

“I consider cinema a universal language, and I consider human beings as universal beings,” he says. “So there’s no reason why people should not be able to relate to a film, or we shouldn’t be able to make films, in different languages and different cultures than our own.”

B. Ebiri:

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was 76 years old when he died, and his last feature was 2012’s Like Someone in Love — so why does it feel like he’s been taken away from us at a moment of such creative promise and vitality? Perhaps because his cinema always seemed to be in mid-mutation, forever testing the limits of film to convey great complexity and humanity. He was the shape-shifter of modern cinema, a man whose restlessness spoke through the constantly refracting nature of his work.

G. Cheshire:

Beginning with Taste of Cherry, each new film confounded my expectations. It took days, weeks, months or even years to process and finally get a fix on the latest Kiarostami, to feel I had a grasp on what it was about that at least satisfied me. Close-Up was multi-layered in its meanings, but I felt I got it on first look. Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, on other hand, I came to regard as masterworks equal to that film, but on initial viewings they befuddled me — and demanded that I revamp my understanding of Kiarostami yet again. For critics, who are increasingly pressed to deliver cogent judgments within an hour or two of seeing a film, such bafflements are as valuable as they are awkward. What if the greatest artists ultimately are the ones who require time, patience, thought, and perhaps above all, an awareness that views their work as an organically evolving whole rather than one consumerist nugget after another?

Related: I updated my entry on Like Someone In Love this week with a link to a valuable Glenn Kenny article.

P. McGavin:

How do you even begin to assimilate this work? His great skill was taking moments — scenes or images — that feel familiar and transforming them into something charged, poetic, mysterious and finally quite beautiful.

T. Hassannia:

Kiarostami’s films are easy to watch because they’re visually resplendent; they’re challenging to watch because they seem to contain a hidden puzzle. But the more familiar you become with his work, the less you’re sure those puzzles are meant to be solved. They’re not. They’re meant to be explored. If the ending of Where is the Friend’s Home? is any indication, Kiarostami believed in the experiential; to use a cliche, he preferred the journey to the destination. He revelled in the digressions of life, and thanks to the temporal features of cinema he was able to serenely express that vision.

A.O. Scott:

To an extent that we have only begun to grasp, movies invented a new way of thinking, and Abbas Kiarostami’s movies are among the clearest and most challenging applications of cinematic thought.

K. Phipps:

He and other filmmakers of his generation also provided — and continue to provide, alongside their successors — a window into the world of Iran at a time when such windows weren’t always widely available, or created by the country itself. But it’s hard to think of any country as a collection of faceless enemies when you’ve wandered their streets, seen their children, and felt their desires and pains. Kiarostami captured that, and he did it brilliantly with a sense of playfulness and profundity.

Akiko (Rin Takanashi of new psycho-murder movie Killers) is sent to visit old man Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) at behest of her boss/pimp (Denden, a cop in Uzumaki), skipping a meeting with her visiting grandmother. She tries to avoid her “fiancé” (Ryo Kase of the Outrage movies), who confronts and torments her and accuses her (correctly) of lying, then he tries to kiss up to Takashi, who he assumes to be Akiko’s grandfather. Later he realizes the truth and shit gets real.

Strange movie, hard to warm up to, with an unexpected ending. Shot by Takeshi Kitano’s DP. Played at Cannes with Amour, Holy Motors, Cosmopolis and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet. Title was meant to be The End, which would’ve been darkly funny if it flashed up right after the final scene.

R. Porton in Cinema Scope:

Like Amir Naderi’s Cut, another recent films made in Japan by an Iranian director, Kiarostami employs a rather schlocky narrative schema as a means of exploring, and exploding, cultural contradictions.

V. Rizov:

The threat of something horrid happening throughout — especially when the prof’s at the wheel, going into reverse while seemingly unaware of little kids behind the vehicle or nodding off at a red light — is finally delivered upon. This is effectively a movie that wonders about a society in which an abusive fiance can “confront,” with barely suppressed violence and much arm-grabbing and yelling, his would-be future wife in a wide open public area and not merit a glance, let alone an intervention.

[EDIT, one year later]:
I found myself thinking about this strange film lots in the past year, and after Kiarostami’s death, Glenn Kenny wrote a great article, Hollywood to Tehran to Tokyo, which sheds new light on the film in a roundabout way.

The Venice Film Festival posted 70-ish short films online to commemorate their 70th anniversary. I watched them gradually over the past year. These are the ones I especially liked. Least favorites are here and the rest here.

Shinya TsukamotoAbandoned Monster

A giant robot vs giant monster film that handily beats Pacific Rim, co-directed by a kid (his son?)

Athina Rachel Tsangari24 Frames Per Century

Two film projectors on an island aim picture over the ocean, running only a frame per few seconds, and as the reel runs out a woman appears to insert the new one and switch over.

Paul Schrader

Paul wears a harness of cameras pointing at himself, walks the city giving a monologue about cinema which is worth transcribing in full.

Paul Schrader on the High Line, May 29th, 2013. When I first came into the film business it was a time of crisis. Society was in upheaval. There was a drug revolution, sex revolution, gay rights, women’s rights, civil rights, anti-establishment, and the times required new heroes, new themes for movies, and we had about fifteen years of interesting film. Motion pictures are again in a time of crisis – only today it is a crisis of form, not a crisis of content. We don’t know quite what movies are. We don’t know how long they are. We don’t know how you see them, where you see them, how you pay for them. Feels more like 1913 than 2013. Everything is being made up on the fly. The idea of filmed entertainment is undergoing a systematic change. Every week brings another change. No one knows for sure what it’ll be like. It won’t be a projected image in a dark room in front of an audience – that’s 20th century. I also know that content is character, story, theme. Form is delivery systems. Content is the wine and form is the bottle. There is no content without form. There is no wine without the bottle. When the form is changing, content can’t stabilize. You can’t make a revolutionary film in the middle of a revolution. My concern is that this period of transition we’re going through may not in fact be a transition at all, but a new status of permanent technological change, which never stabilizes, will never resolve itself to the point where content can again reign supreme.

Yorgos Lanthimos

A proper drama with full credits. Two girls have a pistol duel.

Yonfan

Costume dance!

Salvatore Mereu

Young goat herder is watching movie on his phone that starred older goat herder many years ago – presumably something by Vittorio De Seta, since the short was dedicated to him.

Catherine Breillat

Hilariously self-deprecating – a café monologue about cinema’s ties to money and power is interrupted by some kids on their way to see a movie, but not the new Breillat because “I want something light, not to have to think.”

Walter Salles

Two photographs taken minutes before new popes were announced, while a woman tells a story of her absent mother who sent her a letter. “I keep you inside of me, like a film I watch and watch without ever tiring.”

Abbas Kiarostami

Laughing kid directs a remake of The Sprinkler Sprinkled.

Samuel Maoz

Hilarious digital representation of “the death of cinema”

Milcho Manchevski

Ironic piece about people engrossed in their portable devices – one girl watches a video about people on the street failing to notice some tragedy, ponders the video while walking right past another tragedy everyone is failing to notice.

Franco MarescoThe Last Lion

Hammy gangster type sings happy birthday to the festival in front of a giant cake and two silent twins, then devours the golden lion cake topper.

Aleksei Fedorchenko

Close-up split-screen faces of people dreaming movies (with sfx)

Ulrich SeidlHakuna Matata

Three guys say “Hakuna Matata” mantra-like, four times. Then three guys in a different setting, standing together in the same way, same action. Finally two of the original guys sweeping the floor. I have no idea what it means but I liked it.

Orderly or Disorderly (1981, Abbas Kiarostami)

Like an expanded version of Two Solutions to One Problem, A.K. films some situations in two ways each: chaotic and organized, to demonstrate that ordered efficiency leads to happier results. First it’s school children, in line vs. every-man-for-himself. Then they attempt to film traffic patterns, first outside the city then inside. But the traffic cop helping them with their “organized” model is no match for city drivers and pedestrians. Each scene begins with a slate, and at the end A.K. says “cut,” but in certain situations (“disorderly” schoolkids taking forever to board a bus, multiple unsuccessful attempts to get “orderly” traffic patterns) you hear the director and crew talking, discussing their results and the purpose for the film – an early example of A.K.’s love of behind-the-scenes stories and slyly demystifying the filmmaking process (sly because he re-mystifies it in various ways, like the final shot of 10 on Ten, or most of Through the Olive Trees).

stubbornly disorderly traffic:

M. Saeed-Vafa in Senses:

What is normally non-humorous is seen and heard as humorous, ridiculous, or absurd through Kiarostami’s films. Similar to Tati’s Playtime, Kiarostami’s fantastic short Orderly or Disorderly derives its power and humor through shot composition, the use of sound, and, in particular, Kiarostami’s voice over. The high angle long shots of the children in the school-yard lining up to drink water or getting on the bus, as well as the impatient drivers who complicate traffic in a Tehran intersection, reveal the humorous nature of chaos and order in public spaces.

Rotterdam Europoort (1966, Joris Ivens)

A really strange one – you think it’s going to be a doc portrait of the city, but it goes full-on poetic instead. This makes perfect sense once I realize that Ivens is the guy who made A Valparaiso and A Tale of the Wind. I’d gotten him confused with Bert Haanstra somehow, whose movies are just as exciting, but more straightforward and focused, documentary-like. Repeated dialogue (err, monologue), talks about work, old age and youth, the nature of man. Monumental, inexplicable. I watched it twice. IMDB says Chris Marker adapted the narration for France. Shot by Etienne Becker (L’Amour Fou, Malle’s Calcutta) and Eduard van der Enden (Haanstra’s Glas and Fanfare, Tati’s Trafic).

from the Ivens site:

After more than thirty years of work abroad, Ivens was invited by the municipality to make a film in Rotterdam again, where he had shot his well-known The Bridge (1928). Rotterdam-Europoort, whose production took two years, became a layered hybrid of fact and fiction, poetry and legend: a modern interpretation of The Flying Dutchman. Not devoid of critical remarks, it was a challenging way to promote the port.

Grunes:

The figure of a lost soul, who is at one point addressed (by an opera singer) as “Captain,” is Ivens’s and, if we are of a certain age, our own surrogate. This elegant, mysterious, mystified man is embroiled in a scattered existence, at least partly caused by the war, the ongoing burden of its memory, and the onslaught of youth who kill time rather than people.

mysterious Captain in a skirt shows up halfway through:

I Am (Not) Van Gogh (2005, David Russo)

Thinking about Little Dizzle again, I looked up Russo and discovered he has a short I haven’t seen. I’m not crazy about the voiceover – Russo explaining the premise of his proposed short film to a skeptical arts festival council – but the visuals are just what I’d hoped for, more of the chaotic/precise stop-motion of Populi and Pan With Us, this time amongst a festival crowd, flitting rapidly behind the animation, out of time like that Orbital video. I loved the rolling clock – also great are a swimming fish on cut-out paper and an animated mouth lip-synched to David’s flustered narration.

78 Tours (1985, Georges Schwizgebel)

Better than the others I’ve seen by Schwizgebel. Nothing but excellent animation and imaginative transitions as everything morphs into everything else for four minutes, to a catchy accordian theme.

S. Katz: “For 78 Tours Schwizgebel drew out ellipses at varying angles to indicate the positioning of the characters in relations to the camera. Some of these plan views are so complex they look like technical drawings for an engineering project.”

Squirtgun Stepprint (1998, Pat O’Neill)

Black and white water-droplet (squirtgun?) patterns that sometimes seem to flow, but usually just flicker and jitter, seeming to double back on themselves (step print?).

Description by somebody who understands: “O’Neill applied film developer to film stock using a squirt gun, then rearranged the results into rhythmic repetitions.”

stills don’t really make sense for films like these:

Coreopsis (1998, Pat O’Neill)

Line-drawing (or scratching) patterns, abstract, though I tried to make them into faces, bodies, fireworks, footballs. Again with the jittery repeated patterns in the motion. Sometimes a focused bunch of overlapping figures on screen, but just as often a sparse batch of small lines in a vast darkness. The lines get thicker and fuzzier towards the end. After the previous short, I realized this would be silent and played some late Ennio Morricone over it, not to brilliant effect, turning the film into a sitcom title sequence.

Details found online: “O’Neill scratched directly on the film, then altered it using an optical printer.”

Kiarostami’s The Traveler (1974) and the shorts I’ve seen from the 70’s all focus on children, life journeys and lessons learned. From Close Up in 1990, running through the Friend’s Home / Life and Nothing More / Olive Trees trilogy and the end of Taste of Cherry (1997), Kiarostami seemed to be making great movies while reminding us that they’re movies, showing aspects of their production, and combining fact with fiction. With Olive Trees and Taste of Cherry (and possibly again a decade later with Five and Shirin), he seemed to be valuing poetry over story, philosophy and nature over characters, making more artistically beautiful films before the DV reality of ABC Africa and Ten. Beginning with those two movies in 2001, he seemed to be making documentaries, or at least highly manipulated films that looked like documentaries, until returning to more traditional fiction features with the latest, Certified Copy, which actually contains multiple layers of fiction. I’m laying all this out in order to try and figure where The Wind Will Carry Us belongs. It’s clearly the culmination of his increasingly poetic, but still somewhat traditional storytelling period, and the last film he’d make with a 35mm film crew for a while. It also carries on the long tradition of casting elementary-school-aged boys in lead roles.

Farzad:

The story is elliptical, and the filmmaking reminds us of this, specifically by hiding a couple of main characters from the camera. There are only about ten speaking roles, and three of them are men who are never seen, always perversely hidden around a corner or down in a hole. Behzad (as IMDB calls him – can’t remember if anyone used his name in the film) arrives at a town in the hills with two companions (never seen), is met by his young guide Farzad. He’s here for a secret reason, asking lots of questions about an old woman confined to her home (also never seen). Everyone in town calls him Engineer, but we get no proof that he is or is not an engineer. He camps out, waiting for the old woman to die, gets a phone call every few days to check on his progress, during which he has to run to his car and drive to the top of the mountain for better cell reception.

At top of the mountain is a hole, in which is a man (never seen) digging a ditch to specs provided by an engineer. Behzad never reveals his identity to this man, but refers to being his boss to somebody else later, playing the role of engineer. The visitors spend weeks in town, Behzad is frustrated, gets angry with Farzad then visits him at school to apologize. Part of the frustration is that he can’t seem to score milk, asks around but never gets any until the ditch-digger’s girlfriend takes him to her underground milking cavern (!), retrieving a bucket of milk while listening to the engineer recite poetry. It’s then that I realized how weird this movie is, how the strangeness has creeped up until this scene almost doesn’t register as unusual.

The old woman dies, and Behzad photographs the funeral procession of women from his car. Is this what he has come to do? Is he a reporter? Was this worth a month of the three men’s time? The movie alternates between repeating routines (driving up the hill when the phone rings) and surprising moments (a woman across the way doesn’t let giving birth interupt her daily routine, the man atop the hill’s ditch collapses on him), and the dialogue is peppered with poetry and philosophy. Photographically, it’s got the winding roads from Taste of Cherry, a man shaving into the camera-mirror as seen in Certified Copy, and probably plenty more I didn’t recognize. The title is a line from a poem by Forough Farroukhzaad (The House Is Black). Movie won second place at Venice to Zhang Yimou’s provincial Not One Less – I’ll bet some people besides me have wondered at that decision.

S. Foundas rounds things up neatly:

An “engineer” (who turns out to be a kind of filmmaker) travels to a remote Kurdish village with the intent of photographing the funeral rites of a dying 100-year-old woman, and the witty, haunting, poetic film that follows is about his — and Kiarostami’s own — struggle to complete that mission, to capture something of real life on film without violating its essence. Kiarostami himself has not worked on film since, preferring the more portable and less invasive technology of video. Call it the first true movie of the digital revolution.

A.O. Scott:

It’s easy enough to expound on the spiritual and moral importance of opening oneself to experience – “prefer the present,” the doctor says, offering a Farsi version of an injunction familiar to readers of Western New Age self-help literature – but it is a rare artist who can prove it. You don’t watch The Wind Will Carry Us so much as dwell in it.

Sorry to overquote J. Rosenbaum, but he has by far the most interesting things to say:

This film — one of Kiarostami’s greatest and in many ways his richest to date — has reportedly not yet passed the Iranian censors … I’ve heard a rumor that the title sequence is the main source of contention. … My guess is that the cellar scene is provocative mostly because it taps into the sort of emotions and sensations that are stirred by poetry. According to Elaine Sciolino’s recent book Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran, “Simply put, poetry for Iranians is religion, a religion as powerful as Islam.” It’s hardly exceptional that Kiarostami, who published a collection of his beautiful landscape photographs in Europe last year, shortly afterward published a collection of his poems in Iran — many of them haikulike images, like sketches for moments in his films.

The particular ethics of The Wind Will Carry Us consist largely of Kiarostami reflecting on his own practice as a “media person” exploiting poor people: Behzad may be the closest thing in Kiarostami’s work to a critical self-portrait, at least since the hero in his highly uncharacteristic 1977 feature Report. The most obvious marker of this autocritique is Behzad’s cruelty when, during a moment of angry frustration, he kicks a turtle onto its back and leaves it stranded, though the turtle manages to right itself as Behzad drives back down the hill.

By concentrating on the death of a century-old woman in the year 1999, Kiarostami also seems to be making some sort of millennial statement — something that possibly means less inside Iran, which has a different calendar. By comically divvying up his world into media “experts” and peasants — moguls with cellular phones and ordinary working people — he’s raising the issue of who owns this world and who deserves to.

Qassem is always late for school, never does his homework, slacks off to play soccer. Things get out of hand when he decides to attend a big game in Tehran (about four hours northeast of his town – thanks, google maps). He steals money from his mother, borrows a non-working camera from his friend and scams every kid at school, claiming to be taking their portraits, then sells his soccer gear and hits the city.

Once there, he has to buy a ticket from scalpers, but he gets into the stadium. Realizing the game won’t start for hours, he goes walking in the city, finds a grassy spot and takes a nap. He dreams of getting caught cheating at school, of all the kids in town ganging up and beating his ass. Wakes up at dusk, having slept through the game – last shot is him running through the empty stadium.

You can almost hear the narrator from Two Solutions to One Problem asking us whether Qassem deserved to see the game. The movie puts some fun hidden commentaries on Qassem’s state of mind in his schoolwork – another kid reciting a story in class might as well be narrating Qassem’s daydreams (“Kuzat had just one thought: to escape with all his might”), and a vocabulary drill hits on “outlaw, discipline, ambition,” and on the final word he gets inspired to sell his soccer goals for the last bit of money he needs to make his trip.

Criterion calls this Kiarostami’s first feature – it’s 74 minutes, while Experience the previous year was 60 – but Senses of Cinema calls them both “short features.” Semantics! It’s funny that SoC talks of Kiarostami leading the Iranian New Wave, since I couldn’t stop thinking of The 400 Blows during this movie.

Qassem with his parents:

Also watched some early shorts…

Breaktime / In Between Class (1972)

More elliptical story than Bread and Alley or Two Solutions for One Problem. Dara kicks a ball through a window at school, gets punished. He kicks another kid’s ball out of play, escapes punishment. Then he goes for a walk to the highway. There must be something I missed. Sharply photographed, with some tricks you don’t see much in Kiarostami films: a moving crane shot and a slow-motion effect. No dialogue except for the written intro.

The Chorus (1982)

Oh my god, this one is my favorite. Opens with guy in a horse cart galloping through the alleys, but our hero is the old man with a hearing aid who slows him down. Good to see that even in Iran a favorite past time of elderly men is throwing crumbs to flocks of pigeons. Our guy goes home and removes his hearing aid due to obnoxious road work outside, then can’t hear when his granddaughter is at the door. More and more kids gather outside to help her shout to be let in, until finally he looks out the window.

Juliette Binoche takes her impatient son to a reading by an author (opera singer William Shimell), though she doesn’t seem to like his book much. Then she goes out with the author, just a couple of strangers on a tour of historic Tuscany for a couple hours. A shop keeper talks to Binoche as if the author was her husband, and Binoche plays along and then – in a disturbing Lynchian shift – he is her husband. It’s a bit of playful make-believe between them at first, but it quickly turns real.

A perfect story for Kiarostami, who loves to blend fact with fiction. I’m glad that I read a little bit about this beforehand, had been told about the movie’s many “copies”, so I knew to look for them from the beginning – for instance, when Shimell first appears at the reading he tells the crowd a variation on the same lame joke that the man introducing him had just told. And there’s a breathtaking edit towards the end of the movie, a shot of the couple leaving a church, a copy of the shot preceding it. Funny that Kiarostami’s first feature outside his home country (was Tickets also shot in Italy?) is a copy of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first foreign feature – a mixture of playful fantasy and domestic drama starring Binoche as a mother. Even though he’s making a marketable narrative film for the first time in a decade or so, Kiarostami still has some recognizable signature elements. The most comfortable conversation between our characters takes place in a moving car (below) and there are some good shots of trees, hills, roads, just enough to be recognizable if you’re looking for them, maybe even inserted slyly as a self-conscious trademark for the auteurists to hang onto.

Some of the writings online seem to think that the two were actually married, that the author may in fact be Binoche’s son’s father, and that it’s not as mysterious as all that… suppose I need to watch again.

New Yorker:

It’s … a tribute to the freedoms that Kiarostami considers essential yet also a warning to those who might consider political and social freedom to be a self-fulfilling and self-sufficient liberation. The film breathes the air of freedom from outer constraints … suggests a range of romantic and erotic options that can’t be depicted in Iran. Yet other constraints are at the core of the film—there’s the bond of marriage, which the couple may or may not have undertaken, and which a host of other newlywed couples seen in the village (famed for bringing good luck) hopefully choose. And there’s the bond of the self, the inescapable and apparently immutable force of character, which seems to compel the free-spirited, unconstrained man, out on a spree, to choose as a mistress the same woman as the one he was, or is, married to.

NY Times:

… such a conspicuous leap from neo-Realism to European modernism, it sometimes feels like a dry comic parody. As the movie goes along, it begins to deconstruct itself by posing as a cinematic homage, or copy, if you will, of European art films of the 1950s and ’60s, with contemporary echoes. Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, in which a couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman travel to Naples to sell a house, is the most obvious forerunner. Also alluded to are Michelangelo Antonioni’s Avventura, with its stark juxtapositions of ancient and modern images, and Alain Resnais’s elegant, memory-obsessed mind bender, Last Year at Marienbad. It has also been suggested that more recent antecedents like Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are role models. In any case, Certified Copy virtually announces itself as a deliberate stylistic composite.

Watched again with Katy in September. She thought I was showing it as a comment on the state of our relationship, which doesn’t even make sense. Anyway, movies about couples fighting make Katy sad, so she didn’t enjoy it much. Second time through I was thinking about the two ellipses in the movie. The opening sequence during the author’s reading is real-time, as is the entire rest of the movie beginning when he visits her shop, and an unknown amount of time passes between those segments (probably no more than a few hours). Then there’s the character ellipsis, when suddenly they change from a couple who has just met into one who has been married fifteen years.

I think I get Ten, that it’s a discussion between everyday people about their real problems, somewhat politically charged but mostly a realist drama minus much of the drama, with two digital cameras bolted inside a car. He says the story could be anyone’s story, and that anyone’s story would be worth filming for a movie. I didn’t dislike it, but I prefer Kiarostami’s other work, or the kind of scripted social dramas that Jafar Panahi makes (or made, since he’s currently in prison).

At the center of the movie, a mother gets in terrible arguments with her son who resents her for divorcing his father. We also have scenes (exactly ten total, each with countdown leader) with the woman’s sister, a prostitute who accidentally hops into the car (the most contrived part of this realist experiment) and an old woman hitching a ride to pray (the least contrived – reportedly she was really hitching a ride, and had no idea she was appearing in a movie).

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Better is the documentary 10 on Ten, or I should say it’s better to watch them both together, as A.K. explains in-depth his thoughts on filmmaking, actors, writing and so forth. The doc opens where he shot the end of Taste of Cherry, the hill with winding paths and the distictive trees, which overlooks the streets of Tehran, where he shot Ten. He talks about the immediacy of video, its portability and ability to capture natural performances, which he used by accident in Cherry after the final scene was botched by the film lab, then halfway on purpose in ABC Africa. “This camera allows artists to work alone again.”

He no longer writes screenplays, just sketches his movies over a few pages. “I only remain faithful to the original idea of the film, and even that is not something you can be sure of. When I write a full and accurate screenplay, I’m no longer interested in making it, and usually hand them over to colleagues.” Hence Crimson Gold the year after Ten came out. The shocker is the last chapter of 10 on Ten, a miracle of an ending involving ants in a hole in the road, reviving my faith (shaken by Ten) that A.K. can make cinema out of anything.

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E. Hayes:

Ten centres on a divorced woman and her relationship with her son, Amin. The actress Mania Akbari is herself a divorcee, and Amin is her own son. We watch the son, without inhibition in the way today’s children can be with parents, caught between his separated mother and father in their battle for possession, self-possession and respect. Through the mother’s struggles with the child, a little tragedy is played out. Pride and possessiveness make communication hideously painful. Meanwhile, various aspects of womanhood are embodied by the women who catch a lift with Akbari. This is a drama of the deferred nature of human fulfilment – a tragedy most people in any audience are all too able to identify with, in any country.

lead actress Mania Akbari:

This film, in my opinion, talks about how relationships today are empty and distant from love. All women in the world, and men for that matter, thirst for love. This film isn’t anti-men. Relationships have become transactions, have become materialist. I think this is what the film shows.