Moment of Innocence (1996) - Mohsen Makhmalbaf
There is a line between fiction and documentary set up long ago and adhered to by filmmakers the world round. Sure there are personal films and autobiographical tales of youth, but rarely has a national cinema been so disinterested in these distinctions as in Iran. Like Kiarostami's Close-Up before it, Moment of Innocence blends documentary and fiction so often that it's hard to tell what is part of the film and what is re-enacted life.
The story begins with a policeman appearing at Makhmalbaf's house. He wants to be an actor, and he was stabbed by Makhmalbaf twenty years ago. This much is true. Makhmalbaf was a radical in his early years, stabbed this officer for his gun, and spent 5 years in jail for his actions. The real policeman approached Makhmalbaf to be an actor earlier in his career. However the police officer here is not played by the real person, for Makhmalbaf didn't believe he could act. This is the first instance where fantasy and reality don't exactly interact.
The film is set up as a recreation of that event, with Makhmalbaf playing himself. Both he and the officer are looking for a young actor to play themselves, and once they find that actor they spend their time apart seperately training the little version of themselves. The police officer is given more screen time than Makhmalbaf, and we hear his story as one of humiliation, considering he quit being an officer after being stabbed. He also lost what he believed was the love of his life, a girl who kept stopping to ask him questions, who he believed loved him, but we'll get into her later.
Makhmalbaf lets the younger version of himself have most of the screen time. He appears briefly and barely as a mentor, once he has his man, he casts the kid's cousin, who happens to be his real love interest, and then the attention is on them. Makhmalbaf remains out of the film, and the picture goes along. Not much actual filming is made, but a lot of rehearsing. The police officer is determined to be the good guy, because after all he was the one stabbed, he wasn't hurting anybody. However he was working for the Shah, and you can't be too surprised that he's a little misguided. He still believes that there was a love between him and that girl.
He throws tantrums throughout, and the biggest one comes when he discovers the reality of that girl he once loved. Once he sees a similar girl asking the younger version of himself for the time, he notices that she's part of the film, and therefore is with Makhmalbaf, therefore explaining the original connection. As usual though plot isn't as important as mood here. Makhmalbaf expands on the notion that an actor is just another job, just as a filmmaker. There is a notion in Iranian film that anyone can make a film and anyone can be in a film. He knows what he's doing here, and he expands this anything can happen mentality to include the fact that anything can be the subject of a movie.
Makhmalbaf is imo the best of all Iranian filmmakers. His films speak volumes of truth to me. Moment of Innocence is certainly a plus in his catalogue, falling just short of his lyrical follow up Gabbeh. In this film he is showing more personally than ever his own life. How he changed his life and politics. Hard to believe that a man once a political prisoner in era of the Shah would have half or more of his films banned in modern Iran. He has disassociated himself with politics, and this film shows some of that. It is his way, more than the police man's idea to relive and reenact the past, to set things right.
Grade A -