Close Up (1990)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Writers: Abbas Kiarostami
Actors: Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abolfazl Ahankhah
It's been a while since I watched an Iranian film, the last I remember was the acclaimed "A Separation" back in 2011. So I did not know how to get back into it or what to actually expect. I remember how Iranian movies would perfect the art of slow movies which revolve around people and emotions rather than events and action. That is exactly what I got when I was watching Close Up. The film is the definition of the word emotion and feeling. Because if you don't focus and really pay attention, this film would seem pointless and uneventful. Let me then get into my thoughts on the film and how I feel about it a week after watching it.
Close Up is one of those films that straddles a thin line between documentary and film. The story follows the real life story of Hossain Sabzian who impersonated the famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf in order to convince a family to star in his movie. Throughout the film we follow events that were filmed in real time, such as the lengthy court scene. However, we also got to see many instances of reenactment by the same people involved. The film is played, edited and shot in a way where you don't feel the difference between the staged and real parts of the film. That is one of the greatest strengths of this film, and to me it is one of the few films that actually pulled it off.
As I was watching the film one sentence kept on popping in my head, "this feels so real". Which it was! Yet my brain was so enthralled in the story that I forgot that what I was seeing was actually happening in real time to actual people. It started to make me think. With thousands of films available to us, and with thousands of brilliant performances, nothing made me feel what I felt with Close Up. I understood through this film that no matter how good an actor is, you can never make it feel as real as the real thing. You can get close, but it will never be real. Which is why I feel like this movie manages to showcase such an important theme and concept when it comes to film that not many of us consider. Furthermore, the name of the film Close Up perfectly envelopes the themes and motifs of this picture. Usually a close up shot is done in order to bring the audience close to the actor so that the emotions are the main star of the shot. Through close up shots, audiences are purely focused on the face and how it reacts to certain situations. With this film in particular, I found the timings of the close up shots by director Abbas Kiarostami to be incredibly well placed. The court scene close up on Hossain managed to give me one of the realist feelings of human identity and psyche I have ever seen in film. Again, it's because it is all real, and you feel like you need to check yourself as you are watching the film to remember that what you are seeing is reality and not staged.
I want to move along and talk about some of the main themes of this film, other than human identity and raw emotion. The other very important theme is seen through the words of Hossain. That is the idea of the art of film and film making. We see this man who basically has nothing in his life to live for. He is poor, and has a simple job. Yet he dreams to be in the film industry, and he dreams of making films as films have affected him in such a way that he went on to impersonate his favorite director, who he evidently looks like. Hossain talks about how he wishes to make films on the true suffering of people, the type of suffering that he has felt throughout his life. The interesting thing is that as he is saying these words, Abbas Kiarostami is doing exactly what Hossain wishes. He is giving us the gift of showing the suffering of Hossain beautifully and in a way that could never be recreated even after a thousand takes. I find the irony in the situation heartwarming and sad at the same time. It is sad since we know that Hossain will never be able to achieve what he wishes for, yet it is heartwarming since he will ultimately have a part in achieving his wish of conveying human suffering. This suffering is also incredibly shown in the final scene of the film where Hossain and the actual Makhmalbaf go to the family to pay them a visit. The raw emotions as Hossain cries out in guilt is something that can never be seen in any other film. However, although Hossain suffered throughout this tale, he was finally able to show the viewers what he has been passionately preaching throughout the film. And it is this sentiment that makes this film such a beautiful one for both Hossain and the viewers.
Now I want to talk a bit about the reenacted scenes since they play a key role in allowing the viewer to fully understand what happened before the actual events. What I found to be truly incredible was that the reenacted scenes did not feel out of place with the whole movie. The blended in perfectly with the entire flow of the film. What you need to remember that it was all reenacted with the exact same people and not other actors. So what we got was regular people, acting for the first time in their lives, giving a performance that is so real that some actors can't even do with hundreds of takes. I feel like the real factor here is that they are just doing what they always do. With an actor, he/she may try to exaggerate certain aspects, maybe due to training. However these regular people were able to give a performance that was so natural it did not seem to me like they were acting. The natural acting along with the seamless editing and camera work by Kiarostami made it so this movie came out the way it did.
All in all, this film is one that I will remember for its raw and natural feeling. Obviously it is filmed in real time, however that does not deter from the fact that it was able to use clever use of camera work and close ups in order to give the viewer a true feeling of human identity. However this film is unfortunately not for everyone. The film challenges the viewer to not only pay attention to what is going on in the surface but also to look deeper at the hidden meanings and subtexts of the film. Furthermore, the film is a bit of a slow burner which may not appeal to many people. It is uneventful as well, yet if you can look past that, this film is one to look out for if you want to get an introduction to Iranian cinema. Overall the film was a great reminder of how real life can never compare to what we see on the screen. Furthermore, the raw emotions and natural display of human identity was one that I have seen in very few films before. However, the film lacks with its pacing and can be a bit tedious to watch at times. Even with that I still recommend this film for anyone looking for something simple, different, and with a great emphasis on emotions and subtext.