i have been a fan of abbas kiarostami for quite a while and quite a number of reasons.
the day before yesterday,i saw his latest film "shirin" at a small film festival in berlin and had a really interesting talk after the film with my friends and some other people.
abbas kiarostami himself says:
"I had a very radical feeling and wanted to watch the audience in private. To me watching people is more interesting than anything else. This is a very old feeling. It has nothing to do with directing. It is a deep and bold gaze; similar to that of children in the cradle, quite straightforward. There are moments in this film which are just like a gift to me. It is a blessing to be able to look at someone so closely to detect feelings on their faces."
"...not showing is a kind of objection, an objection to that amount of showing. Pornographic films are not the only representation of porn. When an open heart surgery is on your screen, it is pornography. Watching things which are not supposed to be watched amounts to the experience of pornography."
the film consists of simple close-up shots of iranien women watching an old legendary iranien melodramatic fable.
it is such a brilliant and postmodern idea to show a film by it´s absence and through it´s mere effects and of course evokes many fine moments of film history: anna karina in "vivvre sa vie", crying while watching a dreyer film, nicole kidman in a state of shock watching an opera in "birth", tornatore´s "cinema paradiso", nolot´s "porn theatre", erice´s "the spirit of the beehive", -so many shots of the effects of films on the human face.
but what really disturbed me while watching kiarostami´s film is that all these faces are so false.
first, i didn´t know what is was about these endless close-ups of partly melodramatically make-uped faces, until i figured pretty soon, that none of them were "real" people and all of them were actresses. and all of them playing. there is almost no genuine expression or emotion in their faces and the parable of this film to me is quite the opposite of kiarostami´s intention of showing a "pure", simple film, by "pure" simple facial, emotional reactions. the film demonstrates that even feelings and faces, the last suspected domains of "truth", are fictional and we cannot at all trust what we see in a face to be true. not even an emotion.
it was kind of funny, how all of my friends noticed the extreme eyebrow plucking designs of all of the iranien actresses and only one young woman, who really stuck out, seemed to have a "natural" face with bushy eyebrows. you could see so much surgery in the faces, false noses, false lips, false tears and false feelings.
kieslowski once said, one of the reasons he turned to fiction films coming from documentary films was because he couldn´t stand watching real tears on celluloid and thought it was barbarian and pornographic, but to me watching the actor´s false tears is just as unbearable.
the film is really to a great extent pure kitsch.
the faces are just as melodramatic and intentional as the old fable they are seemingly watching. -which is another delusion of this film, because you never see reflections in the actresses eyes. you only see a white little dot, like a lost little planet in the black universe of the globe of the eye.
the women are not even watching a film, but pretending to watch. and they are so aware of being watched, you can´t even say they are watching at all, they are much more posing infront of us who are watching them like models in a foto shooting.
one of the watching women is juliette binoche, which i really liked as a kind of ironic comment (at least i read it this way), that this film is about all the male, iconic, cinematic representations of weeping women. when i think of binoche, i always see her crying like dreyer´s jeanne d´arc in kieslowski´s "blue". it is always this crying, big, female face. -kieslowski in fact didn´t want this shot in the film and had so many discussions with binoche about not wanting to show her crying, but she really insisted and fought for the shot and in the end won. it is a beautiful shot for sure, but i think i would have stayed tough, if i had been kieslowski, because what is beautiful is certainly not necessarily good and often lacking a quality i´d describe as the rigor of genuineness and a little less of self-centered vanity.
after the film, one girl said she simply didn´t like the way women were being portrayed and i was defending the film all the time, talking about it´s meta-reflections about us (as audience) watching women pretending to watch, alluding to our pretense (and the actual impossibility) of really watching them, like a great postmodern negotiation about the impossibility of unmediatedness. but when i read what kiarostami himself said about the film and his choice of filming only women, i changed my mind.
"Because women are more beautiful, complicated and sensational. A combination of these three qualities makes them perfect candidates for movies and for being looked at. To develop an insight into such complexity, there is no other way than watching, which is the first step on the path to research. Besides, women are more passionate. Being in love is part of their definition."
the girl was so dang right! kiarostami, i never thought i would say this, but you are such a reactionary macho. just imagine a girl making a film about weeping men watching a movie and then saying: Because men are more beautiful and sensational and being in love is part of their definition.
what a stupid thing to say.
marguerite duras once said, men who say "i love the women" are the worst and most full of shit, because they talk about women the same way they talk about cars.
how could you define "women"? and isn´t it a little simplifying to speak of such a great, heterogenous group in this presumptuous way?
some people said, kiarostami´s film would have been better as a video installation and i have to say, i kind of agree, although i like the concentration and duration you experience when sitting in a movie theatre.
it´s a really intrigueing film definitely worth seeing, but as so many things, it is more than the will of its creator and it tells a different story than what it pretends to tell.
go see it.


  1. Regarding the reason why Kieslowski stopped making documentaries, apart from the fact that he had no interest any longer in the political context of film, he said:

    “Not everything can be described. That's the documentary's great problem. It catches itself as if in its own trap... If I'm making a film about love, I can't go into a bedroom if real people are making love there... I noticed, when making documentaries, that the closer I wanted to get to an individual, the more objects which interested me shut themselves off. That's probably why I changed to features... I can even buy some glycerine, put some drops in her eyes & the actress will cry. I managed to photograph some real tears several times. It's something completely different. But now I've got glycerine. I'm frightened of real tears. In fact, I don't even know whether I've got the right to photograph them. At such times I feel like somebody who's found himself in a realm which is, in fact, out of bounds. That's the main reason why I escaped from documentaries.”
    (p.86, Kieslowski on Kieslowski, edited by Danusia Stok, Faber & Faber, 1993)

    I remain, &c.
    Alexander Dyle

  2. hi dear alexander dyle,
    wow, thank you very much for this great comment!

    -but still i don´t really agree with kieslowski, who i think regards documentaries much too restricted, it´s not always about exploiting the subject and his vulnerability and often you do get very close to someone precisely through photographing him. personally, glycerine bores me, because glycerine does what i intend it to do. actors will mostly perform what i know and have figured out in advance. even when they improvise, they follow my direction. a "real person" will do things that frighten me sometimes and that will certainly put me in a realm that is often out of bounds and scary. but isn´t that worthwhile? and shouldn´t we go to the places, we are afraid of? do what we are afraid of? i love fiction film and i love kieslowski. but i´m just as intrigued by someone like raymond depardon, the maysles brothers or a photographer like diane arbus who indeed went into the boundless realm, which indeed can be very dangerous.
    what do you think about kieslowski´s documentaries, was it necessary to escape?
    a friendly regard and thank you again for the great quote, jana

  3. 'Shouldn´t we go to the places, we are afraid of? Do what we are afraid of?'

    'Kieslowski´s documentaries, was it necessary to escape?'

    What excellent questions, Jana! I have decided to post an answer of sorts on my post this evening, Kieslowski & The Making Of Documentary Films, at The Theatre Of The Third Kind.

    I remain, &c.
    Alexander Dyle