As I noted in my original post for this blog, I find cinema to reflect society in uncanny ways almost to the point that it is a clear refabrication of our own reality. While many films do not do this in a semiotic sense, given their fantastical elements or historical distancing, some films manage to merge this line so perfectly that the boundaries of factual reality and fictive narrative become blurry, and this is certainly the case for Abbas Kiarostami’s cinematic tour de force Close-Up. A hybrid between a documented account of a poor Iranian attempting to pass as a famous director and an imagined revisiting with the imposter some years later leads to something heartbreakingly real about the nature of forgiveness, guilt and self-identity in a politically disparate country that cares little for the impoverished and misdirected. Despite being released in 1990, Close-Up has a timeless nature about it that makes it instantly accessible to even the most burgeoning of moviegoer, a notion that is only intensified by the stagnant, yet masterfully composed cinematography, which is delivered most eloquently in the quite lengthy shot of an aerosol can rolling down a hill. It is easy to call the film thought provoking, but it is something much greater than that and is incredibly contemplative and philosophically engaging.
Close-up, as noted in the introduction, is about a case of identity fraud which occurred involving a man of rather low class impersonating the great Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The incident begins when the Hossain Sabzian lying to a woman about his identity while riding on a public bus. Her suspicions are quickly dismissed as the elderly woman notices Hossain reading a copy of Mokhmalbaf’s screenplay for The Cyclist. Hossain/Mohsen furthers his credibility by claiming that he rides on public transportation as a means to find material for his upcoming films. Enthralled by the interest of such a respectable director, the old woman invites Hossain/Mohsen to return to her house and meet her family. Over a length of time, Hossain/Mohsen continually visits the family and claims to be interested in using their home in his next film and at one point convinces the family to give him a large sum of money for his next project. It is not until one of the young male members of the family discovers a article about Makhmalbaf receiving an award recently, that the man attempting to pass as the famous director is not, in fact, who he says to be, particularly considering that he is much older than the director looks in the picture. The film intercuts these encounters with courtroom footage involving the family criticizing Hossain for his behaviors, although through long confessionals it becomes quite clear that Hossain is not in a great state mentally, considering after a large amount of evidence against him, he still claims to be the director. The film closes with an encounter between a journalist friend of the suspicious family member and his imposter, in a gutwrenchingly real scene of fandom and obsession, which involves taking photos of the Hossain for an article outing his lies. At this point, it seems like a great melding of fictive ideas and factual statements, but what makes Kiarostami’s film that much more brilliant is that the cast members throughout the film are indeed played by their real-life counterparts, merging the factual and fictional into a new level of uncertainty.
It is this choice by Kiarostami to use the actual persons of the historic event that makes it such a uniquely honest film. If it were intended to be a fictional rethinking or a political diatribe the director could have easily hired actors to ham up or file down the performances to fit his agenda. Set up in such a way, as is the case with Close-Up, it instead becomes an extension of documentary filmmaking that while forced, nonetheless, manages to mirror reality quite magnificently. Furthermore, the questions of human identity that are interspersed throughout the film become that much more meaningful, when we as viewers find ourselves relating to the characters on a very real level, considering…well, the realness of each individual. It also questions what role an artist plays in documenting an event, while the scene involving the rolling aerosol can may seem like a artistic insertion of modernist zeal, it allows viewers and even the journalist who kicks the can to question what mark they are making in such an event, and how clear such markings have on the outcome as a whole. The addition of such a seemingly mundane scene, arguably proves to become one of the most important scenes in the film. The most important part of the film, however, is its dealings with human nature and the ability to forgive. The simple fact that Kiarostami was able to gather all the individuals again for such a reunion is powerful enough, but to get them to verbalize their desires for forgiveness and understanding on film is a statement to the possibility of society on a global scale. It is clear why this film was such a global success; it is definitively one of the most positive outlooks into our future ever made
I could tell you that buying this film is necessary simply because it is in The Criterion Collection, however, it is far greater than that and is probably one of the films that is necessary to own, if you were limited to only a small selection of films. It is by far one of the best films I have watched this year, and ever for that matter.