"Close-Up" and "The Traveler" DVD Movie Reviews

8/20/2010 Posted by Admin

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami, written by Abbas Kiarostami, 98 minutes, Unrated.

"The Traveler"
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami, written by Abbas Kiarostami, 74 minutes, Unrated

By our guest blogger, Aidan Thomas

Every film I see I get a curious feeling I’ve seen it before. Narrative structure and the stories filmmakers tell have (for the most part) become so homogenized that no matter what film you see, it feels like déjà vu. Judd Apatow and the Apatowesque films illustrate this perfectly. For the most part if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They have similar narrative arcs, preoccupations and senses of humor. It’s rare when one has the opportunity to watch something so entirely unique and fresh that it shocks you into submission and holds you captive for every minute. Abbas Kiarostami’s “Close-Up” is so brilliantly conceived and well made that it does just that.

Kiarostami’s film (recently released for the first time by Criterion Collection) seamlessly blends documentary footage and recreations as he tells the true story of Hossain Sabzian, a poor worker at a paper company who tries to pass himself off as a famous movie director. Sabzian’s story (a story that could only be told on film) is as intriguing as it is powerful. An avid film buff, Sabzian tries to pass himself off as Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf as a means of gaining agency and power in an otherwise paralyzing existence. The film revolves around Sabzian’s trial, after the Ahankhah family discovers his deceit.

All of the primary characters in the film play themselves. It leads a real air of authenticity to the film and certainly adds to the suspense surrounding Sabzian’s trial. The trial footage is phenomenal and it’s impossible to not feel lucky that Kiarostami was allowed to film Sabzian in his element. Kiarostami, the judge, and even the Ahankah family give Sabzian the chance to tell his side of the story.

The film has more meta layers then its possible to count. While watching the film one gets sucked into the courtroom and becomes a jury member. It’s difficult to listen to Sabzian’s passion and eloquence and resist making judgements about his motives and intentions. Sabzian, in impersonating Makhmalbaf hoped to gain a voice in society. Kiarostami, in making this film has given Sabzian just that. Sabzian acts as himself in the movie, acts as himself as Makhmalbaf, and of course is present in the documentary footage from his trial. Kiarostami gives Sabzian the opportunity to tell his story on his terms as he sees fit and rarely has there ever been a more engaging, interesting, and provocative subject for a filmmaker. Sabzian is simultaneously confusing, heartwarming, lovable and soul crushing. Sabzian’s desire to tell his story is explicit and palpable and Kiarostami does a phenomenal job stepping back and allowing Sabzian to do so. In many ways Kiarostami’s film is a filmmakers film; a film that illustrates the transformative nature of filmmaking while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of what a film can be.

It’s important to note that the Criterion DVD also includes Kiarostami’s 1974 film “The Traveler.” The film, widely considered to be Kiarostami’s first feature film, is about a young boy who wants to go to Tehran to see a soccer game. It’s a wonderful film as well as a perfect complement to “Close-Up.” Sabzian cites it as the film that inspired him to pursue film (albeit in an inconventional way). At their best, films and filmmakers are capable of giving voices to those that have none. In that way, “Close-Up” and “The Traveler” represent film at its best.

Close-Up: A
The Traveler: B+

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