A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, May 20, 2016

Close-up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

Like most movie-obsessed kids, I used to imagine myself as the star of my own movie, which happened to be my life. I never imagined myself as the director, but perhaps that's because I didn't know what a director did. Close-up struck a nerve with me, nevertheless, with its eloquent presentation of the entanglement of life and art: It's a documentary about the trial of an unemployed Iranian man whose daydreams about making movies led him to pose as the celebrated director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and to persuade a wealthy family that he was going to use their house as a set and star them in a film. But the remarkable thing about Close-up is that its director, Abbas Kiarostami, then persuaded the Ahankhah family, as well as Hossain Sabzian, the con man, to re-enact the events leading up to the trial. Sabzian and the Ahankhahs -- as well as the journalist Hassan Farazmand; Haj Ali Reza Ahmadi, the judge in the trial; and even Makhmalbaf himself -- appear in the dramatized scenes, proving more than capable actors in playing themselves and creating a simulacrum of the real thing. Kiarostami's film is full of head-spinning tricks of this sort, including a taxi driver who says that he doesn't go to the movies because he's too busy with real life. In the end, when Sabzian is released from prison, he meets with the actual Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Kiarostami was so touched by the encounter of the two men that after shooting the sequence he decided to fake "microphone problems" so as not to intrude upon their privacy. I don't know of any film that more profoundly demonstrates the way movies, the first art form created for and by the masses, have intertwined themselves with our lives. That it should have come from Iran, a country so mysterious to Americans, who pride themselves on having created the motion picture industry, is deeply ironic.