Perhaps Kiarostami's best work -- but you have to be patient
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 12/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A man on a bus gets mistaken for the famous Iranian filmmaker Mohssen Makhmalbaf, and he pretends to be him for a while, ingratiating himself into the life of a family by speaking of a project he is working on. He's not in it for the money, though he borrows taxi fare and is given food. It's the sense of being someone, someone who matters, someone who these people he has come to care about will look up to. When another Iranian filmmaker hears about the trial for this alleged conman, he asks permission to film it and follows up by reconstructing elements of the case, using the actual perpetrator as his main actor.
I don't want to give away more of the situation, captured here in a unique blend of documentary and fiction. What I do want to give is a personal account of my experience with this film, that I hope will motivate a few to take a look -- and to be patient. The film doesn't work its magic right away -- and in fact the beginning of the film can be somewhat disorienting.
Kiarostami has a way of finding the fantastic in the mundane. Somehow, he sets up his films in such a way that I can find myself for the most part merely interested wondering what it is all about, and then suddenly surprised to find myself overwhelmed, surprised by an emotional response that was not manipulated from me with music but somehow, mysteriously. This happened to me while watching ABC Africa, and even more powerfully during this film. His style, the way he achieves this, can almost be thought of as an anti-style -- I know that may not make a lot of sense, but it would take longer than I have here to make clear what I am thinking when I say this. It seems like he is doing very little, but the effect is (in my experience) magical, unexplainable and overwhelming. (For those familiar with Paul Schrader's provocative work on "transcendental style" in Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer, I'd suggest Kiarostami as another who works in this vein -- but whose work is quite distinct from these three).
I'll admit, I'm biased. I've become fascinated by the work of Kiarostami in the past few years. Plus, I am very much drawn to films where reality and fiction intersect and overlap in interesting ways. Still, I'm convinced that with a bit of patience -- if you just give yourself the time to let the film work on you without bringing to it expectations that it won't fulfil -- anyone would be overwhelmed by the marvelous simplicity of this film.
I'm very excited to hear that Criterion is re-releasing this film, and hope that it manages to receive wider attention and acclaim. Here's what to expect on the Criterion dvd release:
-a new, restored high-definition digital transfer -an audio commentary by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum, authors of Abbas Kiarostami -The Traveler, a notable early feature by director Abbas Kiarostami -"Close-up" Long Shot, a forty-five-minute documentary on Close-up's central figure, Hossein Sabzian, five years after Kiarostami's film -a new video interview with Kiarostami -A Walk with Kiarostami (2003), a thirty-two-minute documentary portrait of the director by Iranian film professor Jamsheed Akrami -a new and improved English subtitle translation -and a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Godfrey Cheshire"
The most emotionally powerful films I've ever watched.
J. Sung | KY USA | 11/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've greatly appreciated most of Kiarostami's films as well as other distinguished Iranian filmmakers' works. I recall when I got this film, it was a little late night, and I was already quite sleepy, but I played it anyway. Yes, I must admit that I had a somehow hard time to concentrate on its plot. Perhaps, this film is not a film that you may find out in your local rental stores, neither a film that contains certain predictable film elements that most of majority films do. From the middle of the film, Close-up completely woke me up, and then I couldn't sleep anymore the rest of the night; I watched it once again with full attention.
Close-up moved me deeply and the music hit me; just knocked me down. The subject matter was so strong. Especially, in the ending part, the flower held by the main character came to me as a metaphor of rare hope that sustains our life in which neither such promise nor despair. This is one of the most emotionally powerful films I've ever watched. "
John Farr | 07/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This brilliant dramatic re-creation of an unusual case of criminal impersonation examines the conceits of cinema on one hand, but also the state of post-revolutionary Iranian society, where dire poverty and lack of opportunities can crush aspirations, artistic or otherwise. The writer-director, Abbas Kiarostami ("A Taste of Cherry"), read about Sabzian's predicament in a magazine article, decided to film the trial, and then asked everyone involved to play themselves. A fascinating mash-up of reality and artifice, "Close-Up" is a minor miracle of engaged storytelling whose compassionate final minutes will leave an indelible impression."
Glen Koehn | London, Ontario | 10/31/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Like other movies by this director, Close-Up moves slowly but somehow develops a quiet momentum that continues after the screen goes dark. I think this is partly due to Kiarostami's sincerity. He feels a genuine interest and affection for his characters, and his movies can give you a powerful sense that yes, their lives are really like that, revealed in repetitions and small struggles.
The New Yorker excerpt quoted above suggests that Close-Up contains a protest against religious authority in Iran. I don't see this as a main theme. There may be some subtle reading on which post revolutionary Iranian society is criticized, but the Islamic judge in the trial appears as a fair minded man and not in the least a zealot. He helps bring about a satisfying resolution. Of all the characters it's the journalist who comes off looking most like a shabby opportunist. "
Assumed identity . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 03/28/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Shot in 40 days, using courtroom footage and reenactments with people playing themselves, this "new wave" film by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is an absorbing journey into the nature of identity. What does an ordinary man become when he is assumed to be someone famous? The answer can be poignant, as it is in this film, and surprisingly complex.
Moved by director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's film "The Cyclist," a divorced and unemployed printer's assistant pretends for a moment to a fellow bus passenger that he is the director himself. Suddenly becoming the object of respect and admiration, he allows himself to be drawn into a ruse involving an entire family, who believe that he wants to make a movie about them.
Legally, he admits in court, he is guilty of fraud. But morally, he argues, he has not done and never intended any harm. He has the heart and soul of an artist, which the limited circumstances of his life have never permitted him to be. Respected and admired, taken seriously maybe for the first time in his life, he is lifted out of his suffering. How this is all played out before the cameras makes for a fascinating study of art, imagination, and self. This film is both wise and touching and a worthy addition to the Criterion collection."