Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Cast: Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abolfazl Ahankhah
Plot: Pretending to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf making his next movie, Hossain Sabzian enters the home of a well-to-do family in Tehran, promising it a prominent part in his next movie.
Genre: Drama / Documentary
Rating: PG for some mature themes.
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
This is one film that all cinephiles must watch, a tour de force in filmmaking, and rightly considered to be not only one of Abbas Kiarostami's finest achievements, but also one of the greatest films of the 1990s. Close-Up sees the most famous of Iranian directors work on a film that is best described as a fictional documentary.
The peculiar story centers on a man, Hossain Sabzian, who is being accused of impersonating a fellow Iranian director named Mohsen Makhmalbaf to enter the homes of strangers to rob their material possessions. Hossain is summoned to court for a trial, despite having no ill-intentions to be a crook.
What makes Close-Up so much more intriguing is that Hossain is played by himself. Kiarostami stumbled upon this curious tale after Makhmalbaf showed him a magazine article on it. He sprung into action, visiting Hossain who was under custody as the latter awaited his trial. Kiarostami even recorded much of what transpired in the courtroom, obtaining permission from the judge.
Other scenes focus on reenactments of (and with) Hossain during his impersonation stunt prior to his capture by authorities. The family who was initially tricked also played important 'characters' in the film. The term 'character' is a misnomer; are people playing themselves, even in fictional reenactments, considered characters to begin with?
The genius of Kiarostami is blending the spontaneous with the planned and scripted, and fiction with reality, a filmmaking style that has carried on in his later films such as Ten (2002). It is easy to distinguish dramatic reenactments with records of judicial proceedings. In fact, the latter scenes were shot on 16mm, rather than the standard 35mm.
But, what if the film's documentary elements were elaborately (or deceptively) planned? What then is the truth? What then is ethical filmmaking? It is difficult to know, but what is certain is that the truth is within the filmmaker's control to manipulate. And I urge you after you see this picture to read up on what happened behind-the-scenes. It may just blow your mind to pieces.
The less said about the ending the better - it is a near perfect one that sees Kiarostami performing one of the most thought-provoking cinematic magic acts. However, I feel that the essence of Close-Up comes from a key scene with Hossain in the courtroom. Hossain explains, as he attests, from the heart why he did what he did. Is that really coming from the heart, or is that acting? Is he acting for himself, for the court, for us, or for Kiarostami?
Close-Up brings into question a myriad of talking points including the authenticity and ethics of filmmaking, while at the same time deeply connecting with sociocultural issues Iran was facing at that time as the country was moving forwards (or backwards) into the 1990s decade. There is no doubt Close-Up is a complex and bold work of art by one of cinema's true masters.
Verdict: A transcendent masterpiece that reveals intricate thematic complexities and showcases Kiarostami's brilliance upon a closer and critical examination.
Click here to go back to Central Station.