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"ten" (2002) - abbas kiarostami
posted on 11-Oct-2002 by anton
I had rather mixed feelings heading out to see this film. on one hand, i have always regarded kiarostami's the wind will carry us and taste of cherry among the most interesting happenings in the film world. these two films were the ones that sparkled my interest in Iranian cinema (which I am still only slightly familiar with). what attracts me in his work is meditative, non-judgmental style, his metaphysical musings about the most profound matters with the simple backdrop of iranian rural landscapes.

on another hand, in my foray into Iranian cinema I have been bombarded with the films on the most popular topic among Iranian filmmakers - the rights of women. most of those films were full of self-righteousness and indignation, but at the same time they came across as helplessly na´ve and simple, falling behind in any category except for purely journalistic value (even highly regarded jafar panahi's circle appeared to be too direct in its approach).

I am happy to report that I was wrong. from all the descriptions of the picture it appeared as yet another dogma-based picture that under a transparent guise of non-existent plot tries to hammer down one or two obvious ideas. soon enough you forget about it all, immersed in the lives of its characters.

the premise of ten is simple - a woman in present-day Tehran driving her car on various errands, picking up friends and family members and conversing with them during the drive. ten was shot on a digital camera that was mounted on either dashboard, or the hood of the car, pointing at either passenger or driver's seat. the camera was not moving for the whole period of each episode (the title of the movie gives you a hint on how many to expect).

kiarostami's films are not passive voyeuristic experience that one might expect from this set up. in ten he takes further his continuous exploration of the boundaries between documentary and fiction - after careful casting (where after a short interview he basically asked the actors to speak about their lives) he placed the actors on the "set", and removed himself entirely from the picture (compare this with the taste of cherry, where the actors were talking to the camera). the resulting footage (all 23+ hours of it) was later edited and put together into 93-minute film. with this perfectly postmodern technique he was able to put the viewer right in the middle of the everyday live of the film's characters.

from the very first moments of the opening scene this film throws you right into "action." ten begins with a heated argument between the woman and her son - this quick dialogue, incredible mimics of the kid (remember, the camera is unmoving, focused on his seat), his mannish bluster and childish neediness, creating such an endearing and vivid portrait. in just a few minutes you get the idea about the lives of the characters, and by the end of the first episode I was sitting at the edge of my seat, trying to keep up with this rapid succession of emotions on screen.

you wonder whether these dialogs were scripted or improvised, kiarostami's characters are so sharp, so incredibly alive, possessing strong distinct personalities. we do not even get to see a main character for a while, only her voice is present. by the end of the film you are so involved in the lives of the characters, that final two episodes sound like a thunderous crescendo, hidden in the usual subtlety. heartbreaking episode 9 gently unfolds the drama in the life of the car's passenger, revealed in such incredibly touching and subtle way. her defiant, freedom-seeking character shows its defenselessness, literally removing her veil (an unspeakable move for Islamic culture). it is interesting to notice that there is no physical interaction between the passenger and the driver except for the two cases that were gestures of compassion, becoming even more powerful in their singularity.

in a sense by confining the camera to the space of the car, he focuses only on given character not distracting the viewer by the "exotica" factor, the broad range of the topics covered and the dynamics of the film only proves his talent as a director and actors' performances.

as usual, kiarostami brings up complex matters by the most ordinary means; or perhaps it is the other way around - going at great lengths to arrive at age-old dilemmas that everyone can relate to. in ten he does it with even more tact and subtlety, among the ever-present "noise" (both literally and figuratively) of everyday life he tells the stories, not passively, but contrasting, comparing, developing them from episode to episode. its very fragmented, disjointed nature becomes the texture of life itself; nothing is conclusive, there is no moralizing, no epilogue.

from a cinematic perspective it is an amazing achievement, the essence of cinema that is not the flashy blockbusters with million dollar budgets, not the star casts, not the fashion, not the marketing, but compassion, poetry, modernism and post modernism, sociopolitical comment, mysticism, history, traditions - all of those topics touched upon. kiarostami yet again creates the work that is not aimed at entertaining you for its duration, but provokes you, makes you think and react on so many levels.

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