A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour)

T. Robinson for The Dissolve:

Amirpour has said she was inspired in part by the way wearing a chador made her feel like a bat, and that mental image becomes clear in a moment where The Girl leaps, and looks both like she’s spreading her wings and like she’s wearing a superhero’s cape.

That image (and the girl “floating” down sidewalks on a skateboard) and some lovely widescreen cinematography, slow posing and cool rock music are mainly what we’ve got here. Sure there’s a story: Arash’s slick car is repossessed by local drug dealer because of dude’s hopeless drug-addict dad, then when the dealer is murdered by a wandering vampire, Arash finds himself in an unexpected position of power. The story is almost beside the point though, as the movie drifts along on atmosphere and mood – not a horror mood really, but a derivative Jarmusch aloofness which would be more valuable had he not made his own vampire movie the year before.

Matt Lynch:

Doesn’t really do anything else besides be gorgeous, occasionally letting its pieces click together into something thoughtful like the way she finds her moral boundaries blurring as she interacts with different people. It’s funny and beautiful and mostly disorganized and definitely overlong, but as stylish mood pieces go you could do a lot worse.

Amirpour is Iranian but this was shot in California. The local prostitute was Mozhan Marnò (star of The Stoning of Soraya M.), the girl was Sheila Vand of Argo, and Arash just appeared in another Iranian horror film, Under the Shadow.

Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami)

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.”

Shirin (2008, Abbas Kiarostami)

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.


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.

Tehran Taxi (2015, Jafar Panahi)

Simply called Taxi (or Jafar Panahi’s Taxi) in the USA since lately we are allergic to descriptive or interesting titles (now playing: Joy, Room, Spotlight, Brooklyn, Trumbo). Panahi plays himself, driving a cab and secretly making a film with hidden dash cameras. It’s a smiling, upbeat comedy for the most part, with a bit of surveillance-state darkness at the end. He’s fond of injecting reality into his fictions, but he doesn’t blend them as completely as his countryman Kiarostami. We never believe for a minute that the dash-cams are capturing reality – each ride and conversation is too funny, poignant or perfect to have been accidental.

Panahi picks up a bootleg DVD salesman, who says all cinephiles (including Pahani’s own family) go through him for uncensored foreign films which are officially forbidden, his niece whose school project is to film something which follows all official rules, which she’s finding difficult, a guy and his young wife who were just in a motorcycle accident and she’s freaking that he might die without writing a will, in which case she’ll inherit nothing under the law. I’m seeing a pattern of protest in all this. Also a crime-and-punishment conversation, a lawyer… and two women who want to ritually release their fish, not sure what that’s about besides it reminding me of fish and ritual in What Time Is It There, which I watched the same month.

A. Cook:

This is a great film, one that, with minimal means, creates a sophisticated formal system that Panahi flourishes in and in such a way that for me surpasses Closed Curtain (though doesn’t touch This is Not a Film). It gets bonus points for being such a lively and lovely picture — one that’s excited to pay attention to every character who enters its frame. The dashboard camera setup makes for a simple and exquisite approach, the swivelling device capturing most of the film’s images. Just as lovely, however, are the formal digressions brought on by Panahi’s niece, who pulls out a camera of her own that the film then intermittently cuts to, reiterating the artistic and technological democracy that This is Not a Film first articulated: anything is cinema and anyone can make it using whatever they wish.

Won the top prize in Berlin, where it played with 45 Years, The Pearl Button and Knight of Cups. Hey Kino, let me know if you need a subtitles proofreader. Happy to help. If you’re not embarrassed by the Taxi subs, you ought to be.

Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013, Mohammad Rasoulof)

Kasra is a writer being monitored by the government, secretly working on his memoirs, which include an incident when he and a bunch more writers were meant to be killed together on a bus. Khosrow is an amateur hitman with a sick kid at home, working with his heavier, more confident partner Morteza. They go around calmly tormenting and killing Kasra and everyone he knows in order to shut them up.

G. Cheshire:

In his striking earlier films, Iron Island and The White Meadows, Rasoulof deployed a distinct version of the visual lyricism and quasi-mystical symbolism of other Iranian films. Manuscripts Don’t Burn offers no such cinematic poetry. It is bluntly literal, almost shockingly so given the context … The kinds of killings depicted in the film appear to be based on the “Chain Murders,” in which roughly 80 Iranian intellectuals were murdered between the late ‘80s and 1998 … Rasoulof has done something that Iranians will instantly recognize: drawn a comparison between the Shah’s regime and the present one.

I keep mistakenly calling it Manuscripts Also Die.

Kandahar (2001, Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

Woman returns to Afghanistan to save her suicidal sister, but has trouble finding passage from Iran to Kandahar. Wiki says it’s partly based on true story, and the lead, Nelofer Pazira, played herself – although here she’s called Nafas. She pretends to be part of a large family crossing the border, but they get robbed along the way. She gets a boy called Khak to take her partway, meets an American doctor with a false beard, then tries to follow a wedding party the rest of the way.

Poetic film, sometimes with unconvincing English dialogue but makes up for that with wonderous scenes like the one with guys on crutches racing to catch artificial legs parachuting from above. Makhmalbaf apparently had no trouble finding extras with missing limbs (neither does Jodorowsky). I have a skewed picture of Makhmalbaf – I’ve seen his appearance in Close-Up, a couple of his early documentaries, and a couple by his daughter Samira but this is the first of Mohsen’s features I’ve watched.


Makhmalbaf and his cinematographer, Ebraham Ghafouri, show this desert land as beautiful but remote and forbidding. Roads are tracks from one flat horizon to another. Nafas bounces along in the back of a truck with other women, the burqua amputating her personality.

Argo (2012, Ben Affleck)

A fair pick to win all the oscars: a based-on-true-story thriller about a daring Hollywood-assisted hostage rescue with a happy ending. Affleck casts himself as a world-weary CIA hostage expert working for Malcolm’s Dad, who teams up with movie producers Alan Arkin and John Goodman to rescue U.S. embassy workers in newly Ayatollah Khomeini-run Iran hiding out at the Victor Garber-led Canadian embassy.

Comic book legend Jack Kirby did storyboards for the fake movie that the CIA pretended to be shooting while collecting hostages. Shot full of 1970’s grain by Rodrigo Prieto (25th Hour, Frida, Broken Embraces) and edited by William Goldenberg, who was double-nominated for Zero Dark Thirty (and won for this).

This is Not a Film (2011, Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)

Set up to be a doc of house-arrested filmmaker Panahi by his documentarian friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, with Panahi explaining and roughly staging the next film he would have made if the authorities had let him (coincidentally[?] to be filmed inside a house, concerning a girl who is not allowed to leave). But Panahi cuts off the play-acting and gets philosophical, showing scenes from his work and telling us that if films could be explained, they wouldn’t have to be made. He then takes over the not-film, finally picking up the camera, following a maintenance man outside to a small-scale replay of Offside‘s finale. Throughout, there are definite signs that either this movie was much more cleverly planned than it’s meant to appear, or that Panahi’s life is full of happy coincidences and unplanned art. Either way, I’d been afraid that this would be a movie solely acclaimed because of its subversion, its very existence as political protest, which would’ve been enough, but was delighted than the entire work justifies its Cannes-acclaimed reputation.

Panahi’s daughter’s pet iguana provides the special effects, an unseen neighbor who needs a dog-sitter so she can participate in the celebratory new-year fireworks provides humor, and Jafar’s phone conversations with his attorney provide context on the project.

Panahi attempts to use the internet inside Iran. “Wherever you go, it’s blocked. Most websites are filtered. The rest don’t say anything.”

Mirtahmasb: “Take a shot of me, so in case I’m arrested there will be some images left.”

Panahi’s next film was going to be made with Mohammad Rasoulof, who now suffers the same political fate as Panahi and filmed his own response while out on appeal, Goodbye, which hasn’t made it to video yet.

M. Peranson in Cinema Scope:

Of special note… is Panahi’s bootleg DVD collection, which features the Ryan Reynolds-in-a-coffin film Buried facing us, clearly placed there to make a point.

The work feels completely effortless but my money says it’s an elaborate sound and image construction: though it claims to be a day in the life of Panahi, Mirtahmasb explained in interviews that the film was shot over four days.

A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi)

Red-haired Simin wants to leave Iran for unspecified (possibly so this movie would not get banned) reasons and take her 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter), but Simin’s husband Nader won’t leave, has to take care of his senile father. So she wants a divorce to carry out her plan without him.

Intrigue: the new maid Razieh is doing a shitty job watching Nader’s father. When he comes home and sees dad on the floor, tied to the bed and barely breathing, he shoves her out the door – then she and her husband Hodjat sue him for causing her miscarriage. Razieh and Hodjat aren’t a completely unsympathetic couple. He keeps pointing out that he’s less educated than Nader, and has anger issues, so doesn’t stand a chance in legal debate. But his wife turns out to be lying – she was hit by a car while chasing Nader’s escaped father, which caused her miscarriage. Nader isn’t a mean guy, keeps offering a settlement, but Razieh is trying to paint him as a criminal. After the whole ugly court battle is settled, the divorce is still on, and Termeh has to choose which parent she’ll live with, cue the credits.

Good drama, and interesting look at the Iranian legal system (their interrogator is Babak Karimi, an editor who worked on Tickets and Secret Ballot).