Middle Eastern Magic

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Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby wpqx » Sun Dec 25, 2005 11:04 pm

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 -

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby wpqx » Mon Jan 02, 2006 11:37 pm

The Silence (1998) - Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Continuing on a roll for Makhmalbaf came this film far removed from politics. Filmed outside of his native Iran, the story continues somewhat in tone from Gabbeh. The story is loosely comprised as an excuse to load the frame with beautiful imagery and color. Truthfully I don't think that color has been more abundant and radiant in any previous Iranian film. There is certainly a reference to making his lead actor blind, and showing us the hyper sensitive world that he can only feel and hear.

Not surprisingly music does play a huge roll in this film, as a constant distraction, as a means to pay the bills, and as an ever present part of life. The motif of the film is Beethoven's 5th Symphony, and Khorshid (Tahmineh Normatova) seems to hear it everywhere. When he doesn't hear it, he makes people create those distinct opening notes. He is extremely easily distracted, and this I find to be a slight fault of the film. I mean I can't quite understand why this character who needs this job as the only source of income for his family that's about to get evicted, can't just get his ass to work. There is some deeper meaning to it, and it was thoroughly lost on me.

Representing his eyes is Nadereh a pretty girl also working with Khorshid, who tries sometimes in vain to keep Khorshid employed. She symbolizes the beauty in the world and with nature. Wearing cherries for earrings and flower petals for fingernail polish. It is a world of sympathetic kids and cold adults. The landlord is ominous and unseen, and Khorshid's boss is ineffectual, and cranky. But you can hardly blame him when Khorshid is so awfully bad at his job. Almost never showing up on time and not even being able to tune the instruments properly. He is costing his boss customers, and it isn't surprising that he is going to be fired. Khorshid doesn't seem to do anything to keep his job, making this film somewhat depart from a state of practical reality.

As a piece of cinematic poetry The Silence succeeds on many levels. It is an allegory of modern life, and music in the world. It is an homage to the beauty of the world and nature. As a practical film with a narrative heart it is a failure. It's story does seem to be pointless, and is so badly told that we really wonder if there had to be any real plot at all. Perhaps the film could have worked better as a straight film of pictoral compositions, much in the way Sergei Paradjanov's films substituted shots for plot.

Grade B

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby A » Tue Jan 03, 2006 3:20 pm

Hi wpqx.
I saw this some years ago, but it has stayed in my memory
I agree with you on your assessment of the film. More poetry and less plot would have helped. But the poetic moments were really wonderful.
What i would have liked better, would have been the substitution of Beethoven for some local tune.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby madhuban » Thu Jan 12, 2006 8:24 am

Has anybody seen Kiarostami's "Through the Olive Trees"? A deceptively simple film, but which of Kiarostami's films isn't? I am looking forward to "Tickets" where Kiarostami, Olmi and Loach make films together.

My favourite Panahi is "The Mirror" where he takes a page out of Kiarostami's book but gives it a different spin.


Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Thu Jan 12, 2006 8:33 am

Has anybody seen Kiarostami's "Through the Olive Trees"?

Yes and I have it on video, it's just one of many that are in my backlog. Kiaorstami does have his own thread which is looking a little meagre at the moment. Perhaps you would like to add your thoughts on this film or any for that matter.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Wed Mar 29, 2006 5:08 pm

Still to come.....

A Time for Drunken Horses
At Five in the Afternoon
The Circle
The Colour of Paradise
The Day I Became a Woman
Deserted Station
The Flying Misters

Cheers Trev.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Wed Mar 29, 2006 5:17 pm

Artificial Eye had a dvd release scheduled for "A Silence Between Two Thoughts" a while ago but it seems to have disappeared. Does anyone know what's become of it?

Cheers Trev.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Mar 30, 2006 2:55 am

Artificial-Eye rescheduled it a couple of times, but ultimately they took it off their slate. I believe that they had difficulty obtaining the proper clearances for the DVD.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Thu Jul 13, 2006 7:27 am

Great news, Jafar Panahi's Offside is due to be screened in Cardiff at the Chapter, it wasn't initially on the schedule but has now been added. I'm sure there's no need to add that I'm really looking forward to this and promise to write a full report.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby wpqx » Thu Jul 13, 2006 7:54 am

Its been months since I've seen anything from Iran, and this must surely change.


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