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On Kiarostami - Part II (Close-Up [1990]) // Op-Ed

Twenty years of film work that Kiarostami created, both short, feature-length; documentary and narrative, had been created by prior to Close-Up (1990). Perhaps I haven't the proper context to make this claim, but two decades into a career is ample time for a cinematic style and commonly explored themes to be established in one's oeuvre. At the very least, I believe it had at that point in Kiarostami's.

Depression: sadness, or how I think of it--humanity's natural state, runs throughout Kiarostami's work. As early as The Report (1977), one of his first features, centering around an office stooge dealing, in part, with his wife's suicide attempt; depression is addressed, or at least a tangential form of depression. Again, more cryptically in Where Is My Friend's House? (1987) where the main character outwardly experiences the inner-feeling isolation and helplessness that depression often causes. And most directly in Taste of Cherry (1997), (which is a film we will get in our third part) wherein the plot revolves around an average man's attempts to convince strangers to either bury him or help him out of a grave barring the success of his impending planned suicide.

It is necessary to note the humanist and optimistic lens that Kiarostami examines such emotional darkness with. As discussed before, Where Is My Friends House? (1987) ends with Ahmed triumphing over his adult-induced impotence in regards to his nobility. I won't get into the ending of Taste of Cherry (1997) here, but it has yet another belly-warming beat of hope book-ending the narrative. And The Report (1977) .....

I don't know if it follows this same pattern because I haven't seen it. BUT, based on what films of Kiarostami I have seen, I can only assume that it does.


Close-Up (1990) continues this emotional/narrative trend, going as far as directly addressing the depression the main character faces and in doing so, Kiarostami blurs the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking, exposing the true indistinction between the two.

The film focuses on the story of and subsequent trial of Hossain Sabzian who impersonated Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a renowned Iranian filmmaker and personal favorite of Sabzian himself. Furthering the deceit, he was duping an entire family by repeatedly meeting with them with the false intention of shooting "his" next film at their home and starring said family. After a few weeks Sabzian is arrested, an article is written about the odd scam (which is how Kiarostami became aware of the whole situation), and eventually tried in court.

Much like Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line (1988), Close-Up (1990) spends a large chunk of its run time re-enacting the events leading up to the trial with the actual persons involved. Even going as far as involving the journalist who first wrote on this event. Everything in between the beautifully shot re-enactments is footage shot live in the courtroom during Sabzian's trial. This source material gives us the most in-depth look at Sabzian as a person and his reasoning as to why he chose to impersonate a personal hero of his, getting into his constant turmoil and sadness as well as the closeness he felt to Makhmalbaf's art, in particular his film The Cyclist (1989) because of that film's unique ability to capture the exact flavor of depression that Sabzian had been feeling.

I do not dare spoil the final sequence of this film but I would be remiss if I did not mention the staggering brilliance Kiarostami displayed in order to impact the audience in a deeper way than he had succeeded at already. Put simply and vaguely: it is one of the greatest examples of art-through-adversity I have witnessed and furthermore, it goes unnoticed until you do some research into the film.

Close-Up (1990) is undersold by only referring to it as "interesting" or "fascinating." This film is beyond remarkable all the way through, into the very marrow of its construction. It's a film that makes me feel connected to the entire human race no matter the nationality, religion, location or any other superficial qualifiers that keep people segmented and isolated. More over, I continually experience this beautiful frame from one of the last moments of this piece every time I sink out of reality and into my phone.

(continued in part 3)


St. Louis, Missouri