Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
The film tells the story of the real-life trial of a man (Hossain Sabzian) who impersonated film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, conning a family into believing they would star in his new film. It features the people involved, acting as themselves. A film about human identity, it helped to increase recognition of Abbas Kiarostami in the West.
Navigating between the documentary and the fiction film, Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up is inspired of real life event and presents the real people who were a part of this amazing story. The trial shown and the interview of Kiarostami with Sabzian are real but the rest of the film parts are re-enactments.
Honestly, it took me a while to actually understand that I wasn’t watching a fiction film but something more like a documentary. The plot and the truth of the acting got me stuck to the screen for the entire film. The gaze of Sabzian who acted and impersonated film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf in real life and invented a story and did rehearsals with the members of the family is fascinating and it tells how bad people want to be. Sabzian was someone important for this family and having lost his with his divorce and his children split between him and his wife made stability and helped his esteem. He wanted to be Makhmalbaf so bad that he kept his character for a long time.
As a filmmaker, Kiarostami had a keen instinct to take this story and put it into film. What helps the most here is how benign the crime of the so-called crook is. It is easier for the people involved to re-enact and participate in this project. What is also interesting for Kiarostami and any cinephile out there is the fact that he impersonates and fantasizes the work of a film director. Even today, as a passionate of films I would love to be a director just like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, or Claude Jutra. It is possible to dream about that and to keep this in mind is essential. Sabzian kind of realized a phantasm of being someone else and having the title of what he considers to be his dream.
His mise en scène is simple, subtle, and efficient. The use of jump-cuts and long shots might be one of the few cues that it is a documentary more than a fiction film. It is a great reinterpretation of the Cinema Vérité that was pioneer in Québec by the likes of Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault who just passed away recently. To make a story with real events and to make it entertaining and with narratives without any voice overs or face interviews demonstrates just how great Kiarostami is a storyteller and a movie director. A great masterpiece.