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August 09, 2005

Abbas Kiarostami Double Feature

Nema-ye Nazdik
Abbas Kiarostami - 1990
Facets Video DVD

Crimson Gold
Talaye Sorkh
Jafar Panahi - 2003
Wellspring DVD

I've been making a point of getting better acquainted with Middle Eastern cinema. Part of it is my own need to have a better sense of international film culture. Part of it is also a form of political action to have a little more knowledge of people who are usually stereotyped or marginalized. I do find it ironic that the films most available and interesting are from the country declared an "axis of evil".

If I have learned anything from Close-Up, it's that while not everyone may want to be Paris Hilton, the desire to impersonate a celebrity may be universal. A semi-employed print shop worker was arrested for impersonating Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Kiarostami read the account in a newpaper and recreated the arrest as well as filmed the trial with the actual participants. The worker, Hossain Sabzian, not only convinced a comparatively well to do family that he was Makhmalbaf, but believed he could actually make a film. The highpoint is after Sabzian is released from his month long prison term and meets the person he has impersonated.

Both Kiarostami, who is heard but not seen, and Makhmalbaf show warmth towards Sabzian. We see Sabzian crying when he meets the man he pretended to be, and Makmalbaf embracing him as if they were the long lost brothers that they resemble. During the trial, Sabzian admitted that being an actor might be easier than being a director. Briefly, Sabzian was able to realize his dream.

Crimson Gold, written by Kiarostami, is also based on a true story. The film begins with the interior shot of a jewelry store being robbed. The shot is static with people moving in and out of frame, with the only camera movement being a very subtle zoom and tilt at the end of the shot. Like Close-Up, Crimson Gold is about the marginalized people in Teheren, people who are barely getting by. Much like Panahi's previous film, The Circle, the police and the application of law are criticized. More extreme than Close-Up is the depiction of class disparity in Teheren.

The story is of a pizza delivery man with an increasing sense of alienation, and sense of injustice towards himself and others. The jewelry store and the homes he delivers to represent unobtainable affluence and success. In a scene that seems to encapsulate Pahani's view of the situation of Hossein, the delivery man, and of Iranians in general, Hossein is prevented by the police from making a delivery
and can neither leave nor call his restaurant. The police are waiting to arrest people who have been attending an illegal party in one of the apartments, where men and women are dancing together. No one is immune from being a potential victim.

Near the end of Crimson Gold, Hossein walks around the enormous townhouse of a customer. He views Teheren from the roof, seen in a very wide shot. The shot was eye opening for me in that I had no idea how spread out Teheren is, kind of like Los Angeles with smaller buildings.

With two films based on true stories of two marginalized people in contemporary Teheren, this quote by Kiarostami from wsws.org is of interest: "The biggest impact of cinema on the viewer is that it allows his imagination to take flight. There are two possible results of this. Perhaps it will make his ordinary day-to-day life more bearable. On the other hand, it may result in his day-to-day life seeming so bad that as a result he may decide to change his life. We become more aware of the day-to-day hardships. As Shakespeare says, we're more like our dreams than we are our real lives."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 9, 2005 07:15 PM