Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
Ten sequences examine the emotional lives of women at significant junctures.
Filmed with digital cameras attached to the dashboard and shot entirely in the car driven by Mania Akbari, Ten paints a picture of a woman that wanted to be more than a submitted housewife in a world of that sadly repressive men are still accepted. The first sequence with her son Amin (Amin Maher) presents her as a divorced woman that has been remarried with a man she loves and that her son doesn’t. Amin seems already trained to be carrying the stereotypes his father told him.
Driving around Tehran in long takes that are edited with some jump cuts, are part of this formal exercise that some may not get for its gimmick but once the first conversation is over we see Mania and the interaction of reaction shots is more present. Kiarostami has interviewed people prior to filming and let them into the car to talk and ad lib some conversations. Ending up with 23 hours of footage, Kiarostami edited it down to a 90 minutes film. But what a powerful hour and a half that presents a woman not far from the real Mania Akbari who is in real life a painter, a cinematographer, a film director, well a working woman not completely dedicated to her household but active and happy in her life while feeling guilt as her son is sticking under her nose.
Reality and fiction in Kiarostami films are ambiguous are this is part of the trick with the film maker and the storyteller. Some will categorize Ten as a documentary others as a drama, but it could without a doubt be a part of any given canvas or genre. The message is not black or white neither drama or documentary but still mandatory and grandiose.
This is, in its whole, a film that talks to our humanity and asks us to see that women’s right a still slowly evolving and the acceptance of the most conservative elements of society is still not fully completed. But one has to put aside the actual lack of technique in the telling of these snippets of a story. The actual simplicity of the film can be bothering to some but forces us to actually take care to the important issues of the film which is not the destination of the characters but their interactions, their conversations, and their issues. The action is in the substance and not the box that carries the substance.
As another film shot in a car since The Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, Ten might not be as poetic as The Taste of Cherry or as immersing as The Wind Will Carry Us but it is simply his more intimist piece of observation on a condition too often overlooked.