(1990, Abbas Kiarostami)
We’ve had a lot of movies from all over the world here on Sven vs. The Movies, and now it’s Iran’s turn to present its cinema to us. This is Close-Up, one of three movies by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami on the Movies You Must See list.
Close-Up documents the trial of Hossain Sabzian, a man who frequently visited the Ahankhah family pretending to be the director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Using footage from the actual trial and reconstructions of events using the actual people involved, Close-Up examines why Sabzian did what he did and how guilty he really was of fraud.
Close-Up is an odd movie, one that spends a lot of time in a room watching a man talk. It’s a movie that sums up why “show, don’t tell” is an important rule to follow. It’s a movie with an intriguing concept but fails to execute that concept well. Let’s take a closer look.
The main problem is that Close-Up decided to focus so heavily on the real-life trial of Sabzian instead of the events that led to his trial. This means that the vast majority of the movie sees him sitting in a courtroom describing the events that led him there. The movie prepares us for this, admittedly, through a scene where journalist Hossain Farazmand heads to the house with some police via taxi. He describes the situation, and then we sit in the taxi with the driver while stuff happens in the background.
It’s also alarming how often the movie will tell us what happened, but then rarely shows us any of these events directly. Most of the events of the story are relayed via Sabzian in a very sedentary trial. It’s a real trial, after all, so drama was hardly on the attendees’ minds at the time, and it shows.
What makes this lack of physically showing us things so much worse is that occasionally re-enactments of certain events are shown, with everyone reprising their real life role. The problem is, these re-enactments consist of exactly three scenes – the opening scene with the journalist (which is just as bad as the trial itself), Sabzian meeting Mrs Ahankhah on a bus, and Sabzian visiting the family prior to his arrest.
The reason these scenes make the tell-don’t-show nature of the movie worse is because Kiarostami didn’t object to using re-enactments of the events, but actively chose to keep them to a minimum. It completely fails to use film as a visual story-telling medium. When the majority of the film is just a man’s face in a courtroom telling us a story, it feels lacking. Sure, it matches the title adequately since most of the movie is a close-up of his face, but it’s hardly engaging.
The minimal use of re-enactments also makes the few times they are used feel jarring, as the movie drones on in the trial for what seems like hours until suddenly we’re in a house and the camera quality has changed. It feels clumsy and confusing, and made me feel like there was no real consistent vision in mind.
It doesn’t help that Kiarostami places himself in the movie in a very metafiction kind of way, in a very unnecessary scene of him negotiating to film the trial for his new movie. If you expect this to be leading to some Adaptation-style self-referential mind-screw, then you’d be sadly mistaken. It’s just a man talking to a government official about getting permission to film. It’s not exciting, and it’s not interesting, and it’s not a scene that needs to be in the film. It’s like taking the DVD extras and editing them into the film at random points.
Close-Up absolutely had some great potential. If Kiarostami wanted to use the trial as a framing device, that would have been excellent, opening on the trial and using re-enactments to demonstrate the stories being told to gradually piece the entire narrative together. But instead I found myself desperately wanting to see what was being talked about instead of just listening to a droning court speech.
Close-Up is certainly interesting in its concept, but the execution fails to hold up well. Not the best introduction to Iranian cinema ever made, then.
Starring Hossain Sabzian, Abolfazl Ahankhah, Mehrdad Ahankhah, Mahrokh Ahankhah, Hossain Farazmand, Abbas Kiarostami & Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Written by Abbas Kiarostami
Produced by Ali Reza Zarrin
Cinematography by Ali Reza Zarrindast
Favourite Scene: I liked the re-enactment of Sabzian’s arrest, and it was the one part of the film that felt like it had any kind of narrative drive.
Scene That Bugged Me: With a reporter and two policemen heading into a house to arrest a man, what’s the best thing to film? Oh, that’s right, a bored taxi driver sitting outside the house!
Watch it if: You like strange trials
Avoid it if: You like films to actually show us what happened once in a while
Posted on September 5, 2013, in 1990s, Crime, Documentary, Drama, Iran and tagged abbas kiarostami, close-up, docufilm, documentary, fraud, hossain sabzian, imposter, iranian, mohsen makhmalbaf, movies, persian, show don't tell, trial. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.