Thursday 17 May 2018 10.22pm
‘Very Close-Up and Personal’ 2018
Close-up (1989) An Abbas Kiarostami Film
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is equal #43 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and #37 in the Directors Poll.
Farazmand to Taxi Driver: “Did you tell your agency this may take a while?”
– Quote from Close-up (1989), Screenplay
A part-time employee of a printshop has previously been mistaken for Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. One day, on a bus, while reading the screenplay of The Cyclist (1989) one of Makhmalbaf’s current films, the woman next to him is interested to know where she could buy the book. He gives it to her, and casually mentions that he wrote it, and is Makhmalbaf. She mentions that her children are enthusiastic about Cinema and he offers to talk to them if they’re interested at any time. One thing leads to another and suddenly he finds he is impersonating the director whenever he see this family. He even offers to rehearse and make a film in the Ahankhah family’s house.
The film appears to be an early precursor to the re-enactment filmmaking genre. To take the film at face value, Kiarostami reads about the story in a magazine, follows up with the police to get details about the impersonation, gets hold of the address of the plaintiffs and convinces the legal authorities to let him film the trial with two cameras and boom operators. He then gets hold of the real life people involved in the trial and has them re-enact their roles. It’s very clever and was possibly groundbreaking, mixing documentary with a style of re-enactment that later became a stape of American television.
When Kiarostami was given permission to film the trial his only investment was time and some labour and film costs, in order to determine if there was an interesting story behind the face-value of the magazine story. When there was he was able to get the people involved in all aspects of the deception, or fraud, to play themselves, ranging from the journalist to the family involved, the perpetrator and possibly even the taxi driver and police who went to the Ahankhah’s home to make the arrest – who knows?
Although there is already a lot of compassion in the real-life trial scenes, Kiarostami brings even more compassion into the rest of the story, breaking the film into several sections.
Hossain Sabzian even tells the judge he would have played the director even further if he’d had enough money to pull off the type of lifestyle a famous director would actually be living. He says of himself playing a director, that he needs money: “He can’t wake up in the morning to find there’s not a crumb in the house to feed his family and have to scramble to find food. That made it hard to go back to playing a director. But again, when they respected me and believed I really was a director, their trust gave me confidence.” Later he says as justification, “And besides, he was so keen to be in a film that I wished I had money to make a film so as not to disappoint him.”
When the family offered to lend him money to get home he gladly took it: “When he lent me money I realized he was convinced I was a director.” Later he indicates how far the deception had gone for him personally because, “I felt like I really was a director. I really was him, so I’d play that role.”
Sabzian believes that the family have accused him of trying to perpetrate a burglary of their house and is upset about this charge. The judge tells him that there are only two charges, ‘fraud’ and ‘attempted fraud’. Sabzian comes back to the point a couple of times, feeling that there was good will for the most part on both sides, but with this accusation of him having criminal motives, he says, deeply hurt, “When spite comes along, art dons a veil.”
Without a doubt when it comes to Iranian films, Abbas Kiarostami, is one of the most important. His name appears on the BFI 2012 Top Ten/Top 100 lists regularly. On TIME OUT‘s list of 100 Films to watch… they chose his Kiarostami’s film, The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), which I saw based on that recommendation and it was even better than Close-up (1989).
The judge asks, “What was your motive for passing yourself off as Mr Makhmalbaf?”
Sabzian replies, “I admire him for the films he’s given society and the suffering he portrays in his films. He spoke for me and depicted my suffering especially in Marriage of the Blessed (1989), just as Mr. Kiarostami does, especially in The Traveler (1974). You could say I’m exactly like that traveler. I really liked that film. Due to his passion for soccer that boy takes pictures with a camera that has no film to raise money to go to a soccer match. But he oversleeps and misses the game, as I feel I have done. I know I’m guilty in the eyes of the court, but my love or art should be taken into account.”
He muses, “I wish I was in his place. I mean, I wish I was like him.”