Sunday, 17 May 2009


Bad ma ra khahad bord

Abbas Kiarostami - 1999 - Iran/France

Although it relies upon natural action rather than dramatic narrative, Kiarostomai's film allows easy-going pace, simple situations and scenery to draw in the viewer. The lengthy shots allow space for magnificent vistas to take the breath away (the opposite of the claustrophobic single-setting of his "Ten"). The takes never seem prolonged in order to discover a spiritual world like Tarkovsky, for they feel organic rather that ceremonious. Neither do they go beyond prolonged, as in Bela Tarr, to discover a metaphysical world somewhat freed of spirituality, leaving only what you see and the elements around you. Rather, Kauristami allows his shots and scenes to linger just enough for the scenery and authentic rhythms of the local life to rise to the surface.

Our protagonist is a filmmaker who makes himself part of the daily routine of the town; there is casual generosity all round and despite his somewhat bullish nature, he is successful in befriending several townsfolk. Slowly, he finds himself interested in their gossip; the days are full of casual greetings, the search for milk, wandering livestock, driving… lots of driving in Kiarostami films … Slowly the truth comes: he leads a film crew, but this just creates new questions. The mystery is underplayed but it’s there from the start: why is this small group of filmmakers pretending to be engineers, or treasure hunters? Why does the director keep asking about the health of a local woman who appears to be on her deathbed? What is it that they want from this remote town? But now he is partially embedded in the culture and a crisis of conscious is felt, his mean streak and arrogance surfaces from frustration and the idle pace of the town gets to the increasingly impatient crew. His natural goodwill reasserts itself, but by then it seems to late (in particular, his relationship with his young guide suffers and he doesn't have the time to repair it properly).

So there is humour and mystery, and a genuine plot to be had, despite the impression that we are simply watching a incidental life as it happens. The humour is slight but colours the scenes where an old couple argue gender at the tea shop, or in our filmmaking protagonist constantly dashing great distances to find high ground to take his mobile calls. The repetitions yield rewards and truths: here is the local daily routine; what the filmmaker is told one day, he forgets the next. The careful shots that follow the characters give us a tour and, through that repetition, the geography of the place becomes clear. This topographical attention is a rare reward, for so many films fail to take the time to establish the geography of their locations, which can often hold the key to so much information and suspense. The village itself becomes the main character. The faint grades of shade and sunlight become key indicators of time of day, cast against the sandy walls of the buildings and possessing an unforced beauty. A film to calm you, to force you to ease up, relax and soak in its leisure, pleasures and casual surrealism. Ultimately life-affirming, rational and greatly humanitarian.

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