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Thread: Abbas Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2002

    Abbas Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP

    Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up (1990)
    by Oscar Jubis
    21 April 2009

    "Could you make a film about my suffering?"
    Mr. Sabzian to Abbas Kiarostami during jail visit.

    During Close-Up's coverage of the trial of Hossain Sabzian, the "bogus Makhmalbaf" expresses his desire to play himself on film. Director Abbas Kiarostami, commanding a camera with a zoom lense and another with a "close-up lense" fixed on Sabzian, explains that hes already doing that. The movie Sabzian would direct if he had the means or the movie in which he wishes to play himself would require more artistic intervention than a document of his trial. Something along the lines of movies he treasures, like Moshen Makhmalbaf's The Cyclist and Marriage of the Blessed. Sabzian is on trial for defrauding the Ahankhahs, a middle-class family, into thinking he was Makhmalbaf. Kiarostami granted Sabzian's desire and answered the quoted question most affirmatively. He managed to shoot recreations of key moments in the story in which everyone involved agreed to "play" themselves. Close-Up (1990), the resulting feature film, intercuts these recreations with parts of the actual trial. Then Kiarostami fashions a finale, a sequence in which the actual Makhmalbaf meets Sabzian and brings him to the home of the Ahankahs to apologize, which he facilitated and perhaps instigated.

    Kiarostami is certainly not among the filmmakers who aim to make themselves invisible to the film viewer. He only appears on camera during the scene shot in jail. But we hear him speaking often to several of the story's players: at the police station, at the family's home, and at the court room. His presence keeps reminding us that he is filming and exercising certain influence over the proceedings. In prison, Sabzian asks Kiarostami if being a filmmaker doesn't make him a kind of swindler. Not a bad term for those who make us believe in transfigured worlds-on-film. Kiarostami is like a card shark who shows his tricks. His intervention is highlighted by his describing the camera setup in the courtroom and the inclusion of directions given to the crew regarding the recoding of sound during the final scene. Kiarostami aims to make the nuts and bolts of the film visible. He wants to make us aware of how he uses the power granted him by the story's principals and by the art of film.

    What brings together Sabzian and the Ahankhahs is a deep appreciation of cinema. That they come from different socio-economic class and different ethnicity (Kiarostami insists Mrs. Ahankhah must speak Farsi rather than her native Turkish) reaffirms the power of film to unite and communicate to a whole country, and beyond. Sabzian and the Ahankahs also share a very universal need for recognition and transcendence they believe can come through participation in motion pictures.

    What makes Close-Up's opening scene so baffling is its narrative reticence. A magazine reporter got a call from a friend about the impending arrest of an impersonator and hires a driver to take him and, rather paradoxically, the two cops to the house of the duped family. When they get there, the reporter goes inside, then the cops enter to arrest Sabzian, but the camera stays outside with the driver! As if watching him kick an aerosol can down the road or rescuing flowers from a pile of leaves is more important than showing the protagonist being arrested. Kiarostami's reticent strategy is amply manifested in the films conclusion. The reunion between the impersonator and his idol is shown in long shot and, when they board a motorbike, our view is obstructed by a row of parked cars. As they ride on the bike, the sound of their conversation is muted, and then it comes back intermittently before it goes silent. Kiarostami can be heard blaming it on a faulty lapel microphone, but this type of suppression of information has been one of his authorial signatures all along. Orson Welles once said: "I want to give my audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they wont contribute anything themselves". The Close-Up viewer must share the Ahakhahs and Sabzian's belief in the fruits of active involvement in film. Kiarostami creates the gaps, the spaces that give room to the viewer to actively participate in the completion a work of art: a film about film and about the spell it casts on a whole society. And just as importantly, a film about Sabzian's suffering and the suffering of everyone who yearns for recognition and respect.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada
    Very interesting. Much thanks.
    The Welles quote is GREAT.

    What does Kiarostami look like in person?
    He's old, right?
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Abbas Kiarostami was born in 1940. I tried to put his photo directly here but I forgot how. You'll have to click below. I'm glad you read my post. I think this is a very important film.


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