Prior to heading to the 2010 Cannes Film Festival I’d never heard of Abbas Kiarostami. While in attendance I saw my first film from the Iranian director, the Tuscan romance Certified Copy starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell. I enjoyed the film and found a lot to like about Kiarostami’s direction, but I had nothing to compare it to. Now, ljust over a month later, I have seen three Kiarostami features as Criterion’s new Blu-ray release of his 1990 fiction-documentary Close-Up also includes one of his earliest films, The Traveler (1974), as a special feature. As a burgeoning film critic I was personally able to find value in this disc, but for audiences not as interested in the study of film this is a hard sell and one I would suggest you rent if not ignore entirely.
To begin, Close-Up is incredibly slow, and more interesting as a study of its creation rather than being interesting itself. Based on a true story of a man, Hosein Sabzian, who conned a family by telling them he was the famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, in creating Close-Up, Kiarostami somehow convinced most everyone involved in the true story to play themselves in the film. Ultimately, Sabzian was arrested and brought to trial and Kiarostami even convinced the judge to allow him to film Sabzian’s actual trial as well as interject into the proceedings by asking his own questions. It’s absolutely wild, and hard to believe. Too bad it’s more interesting when boiled down to one paragraph than it is when delivered as a 98-minute feature.
Despite the boredom over the course of much of the film, it’s an honest to God miracle Kiarostami pulled this thing off. How you convince a deceived family to reenact the story of their deception is one thing, but to have them do it with the man that deceived them is impressive to say the least. However, the features available on this disc do manage to shed some light on every aspect of the film’s creation, which ends up creating a curious hypocrisy.
The available features include Kiarostami’s 1974 film The Traveler, an audio commentary with Iranian filmmaker Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, a documentary on Sabzian six years after the film was made, a brand new video interview with Kiarostami and a 30-minute documentary with Kiarostami from 2001. Using this supplementary material you’ll be able to begin piecing everything together, from the creation, production and subsequent release of the film, but I wonder just how many of you are willing to watch nearly three hours of special features as well as watch the movie again for the commentary in order to find a greater appreciation of a film that on its own is quite dull?
If you are up for the challenge, might I suggest first watching The Traveler, a rather boring film that’s included due to a reference used by Sabzian in Close-Up as he says he relates to the soccer obsessed young boy in the film. Sabzian makes this comparison as he is willing to do anything for the cinema and the young boy is willing to do anything in The Traveler just to see a soccer match, including the deception of many people. Next watch the film and then jump over to the documentary “‘Close-up’ Long Shot,” which focuses on Sabzian six years after the film’s release and discusses his upbringing to his current social situation as well as talks with those that know him. At this point, a clear picture of Sabzian should be all yours, but I can’t say you will be brimming with enthusiasm with what you have learned.
Where I would suspect buyers will benefit most from this release is a greater familiarity with Kiarostami. The importance of that information is something you will have to decide for yourself. The brand new interview with the director is quite compelling for interested parties and the 2001 documentary, “A Walk with Kiarostami,” is just as interesting. The director has several famous quotes at his fingertips, ready to back-up any opinion with a bit of wisdom, such as why he doesn’t have more women in his films: “When the fisherman was asked if women would cause trouble out at sea, he replied, ‘Certainly, out on the water it’s no different than it is on land.'” Rimshot!
Overall, I can only recommend this Blu-ray to the most ardent of film buffs. To be honest, I don’t really know why Criterion felt it needed a Blu-ray release seeing how the picture does still suffer from some defects here and there, though I am sure the additional space on a Blu-ray disc and the inclusion of The Traveler means the dual-layered 50GB Blu-ray most likely presents a much better picture than the two-disc DVD.
For someone like me it’s important to see as many films as I possibly can to help you in making your decisions and familiarizing myself with the early work of most directors. For these reasons seeing Close-Up and taking in its special features is important for me, but for most of the general public I would assume an interest in this title would be satisfied with a rental and a weekend spent with the disc and be done. Save your money for the more entertaining films in the Criterion Collection, I am sure there are many you’ve yet to include.