Monday, 24 March 2008

Close-Up (Kiarostami, 1990)

How does one even begin to discuss this dizzyingly complex work of art? Kiarostami's aesthetic choices give us the illusion that this will unfold as something of a docu-drama, and certainly the blurring of fact and fiction plays into that. But this is so much more? In one sense, it's a humbling profile of a man in clear spiritual need. His decision to live the life of his most beloved filmmaker perhaps alludes to a national identity crisis, but on a more personal level it affords him the social recognition and respect that he would otherwise be severely lacking. Sabzian frequently mentions the idea of his "suffering" and a perceived indifference towards the marginalized lower-classes, and one of the most poignant moments in the film occurs when he admits that he stole money to simply "have a meal." In short, this is an examination of social status and the mobility that certain professions - in this case filmmaking - can provide. In another sense, it's a more formal exercise in deconstructing that very process itself. Kiarostami's film is a fragmented one, intent on preserving the ambiguity of its characters' moralities and motivations. As previously stated, it blurs those lines between what's real and what's fabricated, and never wholly makes clear when exactly Sabzian stops playing a "role", so to speak. Additionally, the film plays with perspective by offering us a plurality of opinions (from the family, the journalist, the taxi driver, Sabzian himself) that thwarts the conceit of an "absolute truth." Thus, the penetrating use of the titular "close-up" is rendered deliberately ironic, much like the film itself: the director's confession of this lack of cinematic authenticity is, in actuality, an "absolute truth" in its own right. Kiarostami is too astute to weigh his film down with such hefty theoretical baggage however, and his final gift is one of infectious compassion. The film's extraordinary conclusion is not only a moving tribute to a human capacity for empathy, but also a tantalising confrontation of the audience: by undermining the potentially overwhelming sentimentality of this moment with his disruption of sound design, Kiarostami is effectively asking us to fill in the emotional blanks of these final scenes. And therein lies the beauty, for in spite of the intimidating nature of its conception, Close-Up's generosity ensures that both Sabzian and the audience are involved in the creation of this masterpiece. And surely, that is the greatest accomplishment of them all?

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