Doha Film Institute's Retrospective of Cinematic Master Abbas Kiarostami is closing this Saturday, but not before screening many wonderful films from the highly-respected Iranian director.
Tonight (Thursday) at 7pm is CLOSE-UP:
Kiarostami’s blurring of the line between documentary and fiction finds one of its greatest moments in ‘Close-Up’, which is at once poignant, perplexing and at times very funny. Master documentarist Werner Herzog called the film 'the greatest documentary on filmmaking I have ever seen.'
In an exceedingly odd case that proves once and for all that truth is stranger than fiction, a film buff named Hosem Sabzian convinced a well-to-do family that he was the celebrated Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf – and that he would feature them in his next film. Sabzian ingratiated himself with the family, but his ruse was soon discovered and he was exposed as a dangerous con man by an intrepid magazine reporter.
A particular favourite of many fans of Kiarostami, the film was included in ‘Sight and Sound’ magazines poll of the Top 50 Films of All Time in 2012.
Friday offers two more of Kiarostami's best with SHIRIN and CERTIFIED COPY.
At 4pm: SHIRIN
This daring experiment by Kiarostami is considered by some critics to be a turning point in his career, marking his return to using film instead of digital technology, and foreshadowing his move toward exploring more traditional narrative structures in ‘Certified Copy’ and ‘Like Someone in Love’. A challenging and immensely satisfying film, ‘Shirin’ should be followed like a work of classical music – with one’s emotions.
Over the course of the film, the camera features 112 Iranian actresses, among them Hedieh Tehrani, Niki Karimi, Leila Hatami and Juliette Binoche, while they view a film version of ‘Khosrow and Shirin’, a 12th-century work by the Persian poet Farrideh Golbou that involves a love triangle between a Persian king, an Armenian queen and a Persion sculptor.
The film these women watch is a figment; it is present in the film only in the form of an elaborate soundtrack.
Because we never see what the women are watching, only their faces carefully framed in static images, we have a wonderfully intimate view of the spectators of this tale, which turns on themes of female self-sacrifice. It’s fascinating to realise that Kiarostami shot all of the footage before knowing what the ‘film’ the women ‘watch’ would be. Their emotional reactions to the story envelop the audience, provoking in us a complex response to the soundtrack of Golbou’s poetry, the images of the spectators, and Kiarostami’s magnificent cinematic construction.
At 7pm: CERTIFIED COPY
In ‘Certified Copy’, Kiarostami plays a brilliant, at times perplexing psychological game with the audience. The result is a solid two-hand romantic drama that is at the same time a clever treatise on the nature of cinema and its process of engaging the audience in a fabrication that we experience as ‘real’.
A radiant Juliette Binoche – plays She (the character is never named), a French antique dealer who lives in Tuscany who comes to see James (opera singer and first-time film actor William Shimell) deliver a speech about his latest book, in which he writes about the value of original works of art, and suggests that, perhaps, copies of originals have their own value.
She and James have arranged to drive to Lucignano that afternoon. Suddenly, instead of interacting as strangers, the pair begin to behave like a married couple, their relationship very much on the rocks. But are She and James longtime lovers? Or are they just roleplaying for their own amusement? This puzzle we are contemplating is not just a fun cinematic game; it is also a clever reflection of cinema itself.
Saturday marks the final day of the Retrospective with three fantastic films:
At 1pm: A TASTE OF CHERRY
Life, Kiarostami suggests in this wonderfully contemplative film, is beautiful even in its despair, and it should be embraced to the last. ‘Taste of Cherry’ is the story of Mr. Badii, who drives somewhat aimlessly through the outskirts of Tehran and the surrounding hillside. He approaches several men, offering them a substantial amount of money to take on an unidentified task. Eventually, it becomes clear what Badii seeks: someone to cover his body with earth tomorrow morning, for he intends to commit suicide tonight.
In a trope that Kiarostami eventually uses more strictly in ‘10’, here much of the action takes place inside the car. The bulk of the film consists of three conversations with men whom Badii hopes will assist him. In turn, a soldier, a monk-in-training and a museum lecturer offer their reasons not to take on the task, as well as reasons that Badii should reconsider and embrace life and all the mess that goes along with it.
‘Taste of Cherry’ is full of life’s tiny, uplifting moments – when Badii’s car gets stuck on a dirt road, for example, a cheerful gang of workers flock to free it; and the museum lecturer’s explanation that it was eating a mulberry that diverted him from his own suicidal pact is extremely moving. Kiarostami makes it clear that we should celebrate and cling to life, but not for reasons of material, spiritual or ontological regulation; rather because of its moments of joy and beauty, however fleeting.
At 4pm: ABC AFRICA
In ‘ABC Africa’, Kiarostami maintains his customary stance regarding the tragedies of life, finding hope and beauty in the terrible situation of the orphaned children of Uganda, where violence has been a constant since the country’s emancipation from British rule in 1962. A rebel insurgency has kept the country in the midst of civil war since 1987; on top of this, in the late 1980s and early 90s, HIV infection reached epidemic proportions. Altogether, this multi-faceted crisis has meant the deaths of millions – and has orphaned nearly two million children.
In 2001, Kiarostami and a small film crew visited Uganda to document the work of the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO). The result is ‘ABC Africa’. In his first work made outside his native Iran, the director takes an observational attitude, whether wandering through crowds of excited children (who play it up for the camera with the charm and enthusiasm reserved for the very young), exploring a dreadfully under-resourced AIDS clinic, or inadvertently discovering the electricity in their hotel is cut off at midnight.
Through bringing necessary and urgent attention to – but not lingering on – the ravages of war and HIV/AIDS, and by not railing against the insufficient campaign against the scourge of the disease, Kiarostami allows ‘ABC Africa’ to become a celebration of the resilience of humanity in the face of unimaginable difficulty.
At 7pm: THE WIND WILL CARRY US
For the gently comedic ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’, Kiarostami drastically increases his use of one of the storytelling methods that will become the hallmark of the films that follow it. The story on the film’s surface is not really the point of the project – instead, we are affected by what is on the periphery of the narrative.
Some men from Tehran arrive in a remote Iranian village. It is unclear at first why they have come – they tell the villagers they are searching for treasure – but it turns out they are journalists hoping to document traditional funeral rites that are sure to occur soon, as a very old villager seems to be on her deathbed.
While the journalists await this morbid event, the film shows us the goings-on in the village. Particularly charming is the friendship the central journalist strikes up with a young boy, who becomes his guide to the local culture. Houses all seem built one on top of the next; there is much clambering up and down stairs and ladders as the villagers bring each other food, borrow milk or get together to gossip.
The rural setting provides a counterpoint with the more urban lifestyle of the journalist; hilariously, every time his cellphone rings, he has to get in his car and drive up the hill to get clear reception. It is Kiarostami’s skill at capturing the ambiance surrounding the story that makes this film a quietly pleasing triumph.
Each of these films will be screened in the Museum of Islamic Art Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased any time via the Doha Film Institute website (http://www.dohafilminstitute.com/events/abbas-kiarostami-retrospective-of-a-cinematic-master) or mobile app, or at the DFI Ticket Outlet inside the Museum of Islamic Art during normal open hours.
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