R.I.P. mister Director

Yesterday one of the icons of Iranian cinema passed away. Abbas Kiarostami meant a lot of things to a lot of people, raising the level of Iranian cinema and making it known around the world. But he also has a significance to this one storyteller.

When I started telling stories there wasn’t a storytelling school in the Netherlands. There also wasn’t the idea that storytelling was an actual thing you could do. Stories where the books you read, Marquez, Dostoyevski, Joyce. Or the films you watched, the incredible amount I consumed in my teens and twenties. In fact, I believed I’d be a film maker and write stories for the screen rather than tell them. Twice I was rejected from film school, the first time simply walking in. The receptionist asked my age. When I told her I was eighteen she said “go live a little first.”.

Of all the films I saw it was a few pearls of Iranian cinema that touched me to the core. The body of work by Mohsen Makhmalbaf and the absolute masterpieces by Kiarostami. What they had in common was the game they played with our perceived reality. They did not just comment on the world around us in their celluloid images, like so many directors before and after them. The clay they used was real life, only to strip away the real life and find something underneath.

Take the film Close Up. Shooting for the film starts when Kiarostami reads about a mentally unstable man who swindled a family out of some money, by pretending to be the famous director Makhmalbaf. His meeting with the man in prison is an absurd one:

Kiarostami asks him what he’s done, since reports say that he confessed to fraud. The man says: “On the outside it seems I’ve defrauded a family” to which Kiarostami asks, “But what about the inside?” “The inside (inner truth) is that I love cinema”

When the director asks this man what he can do for him, he never asks “tell the judge not to be harsh”, even though it could help him a lot. He simply (or absurdly) asks the director to make a film about his suffering. While all the time the camera man locks on his intense gaze. We’re meant to think this man is unstable, but he’s us. We’re trapped in a system we can’t get out of. Instead of asking our film makers (currently deemed higher than our poets and writers) to release us, we tell them simply to show our suffering and show the difference between the inner and outer reality.
If the film stopped with the director filming the court case and all characters in it it would have been a masterpiece already. But Kiarostami goes and makes the film of the story with the actual people involved. The family playing themselves, the “crook” playing himself. The implications are dizzying, and we’re left breathless.
So there’s an outside world in which Kiarostami is no more. However, that’s not the inner reality. He’s with us on the inside. I want him to play himself though.

2 thoughts on “R.I.P. mister Director

  1. Wow Sahand, this brings back memories of university class rooms and inspiring lectures on film during my education at Tilburg University, as well as the Rotterdam Film Festival… Abbas Kiarostami was often mentioned and an inspiration to is students. Thanks for this article.

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