Fishing from the Same Stream: The New Iranian Cinema, Close-Up and the “Film-on-film” Genre

“I have hundreds of small sources of inspiration throughout the day, just watching people in daily routines. I think what happens in real life is more important than the cinema. My technique is similar to collage. I collect pieces and put them together. I don’t invent material. I just watch and take it from the daily life of people around me.” – Abbas Kiarostami [1]

“A young man in the small town of Rafsanjan has been writing to me for four years, saying how much he loves cinema. Iranian youth today has a passion for film: many even risk their lives to get into this profession. In my case I didn’t like cinema any more than my friends who became doctors or businessmen.” – Abbas Kiarostami [2]

Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema has been rightly discussed as a “cinema of questions”[3] . It is a formally rigorous but open cinema that allows a considerable degree of audience activity and interpretation. When watching a Kiarostami film we often ask about, and notice, the function and composition of particular frames (often due to the self-conscious composition of a frame-within-the-frame), particular shot choices and of more philosophical or metaphysical dimensions like ethics and duration. His cinema is commonly contemplative in nature, giving us time and drawing heavily on rearranged and carefully framed fragments or slices of everyday life. These particular qualities have been present in Kiarostami’s work since 1970, when he first started making films for the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Young Children and Adults. Kiarostami’s work, at least until the last decade, is remarkable for its consistency across different periods of Iranian cultural, political and religious history, and the various regime and ideological changes associated with each. He has always moved between documentary and fiction, often blurring clear distinctions between each in a single work. Although some of his films were shown outside of Iran in the 1970s, his international reputation only gathered steam in the late 1980s, roughly coinciding with his move into what might be considered a more self-conscious phase of his career, a phase that incorporates the first film in what is often called the “Koker” trilogy, Where is the Friend’s House? (Iran 1987),and Close-Up (Iran 1990). Kiarostami’s work within this realm includes a number of films that focus on the act of filmmaking and the broader film culture, providing an important impetus and influential example for what became a significant indigenous genre of the “new” Iranian cinema.

The key aim of this essay is to discuss and survey this small group of films about filmmaking (films-on-film) produced within the New Iranian cinema of the last twenty or so years. I also want to consider what these films, and their often peculiar approach to the film-on-film genre, can tell us about contemporary Iranian cinema and its reception both in Iran and internationally. Although relatively small in terms of the number of films produced, this genre features prominently within the international reception of the New Iranian cinema. There are numerous reasons for this. For example, the genre enables a more self-conscious rendering of reality while maintaining many of the key characteristics of cinematic naturalism, while also reinforcing the familiar-yet-exotic expectations of much non-European and non-English language art-house cinema.

In many respects, Close-Up, widely regarded as one of Kiarostami’s key films, is both a seminal, emblematic work in his career and somewhat of an anomaly. Rather than focus upon a character who constantly probes and asks questions – as in such films as Where is the Friend’s House? or Taste of Cherry (1997) – Close-Up is more concerned with its main character’s motivations and justifications. It is Kiarostami and we who ask most of the questions. But, unlike many more conventional narrative films, we are also constantly asked to assess and gauge our own relation to the quality, persuasiveness and ethics of these justifications. Kiarostami persistently asks us to consider the form and nature of what we are watching, drawing us into an identification with situations and even characters while concurrently making us aware of the act of watching and listening to film. This is partly the outcome of Kiarostami’s own relation to the film’s subject: “it was the kind of movie that didn’t allow me as a director to manipulate or control it. I feel more like a viewer of that movie than the maker of it.”[4] Nevertheless, despite Kiarostami’s reluctance to claim authorship, I think it is more useful to consider him, emblematically, as the subject, audience and director/creator of the film. But, although Close-Up is non-classical in many aspects of its style and form, as well as its close alignment with observational documentary and realist cinema, it still relies upon clear narrative bridges between scenes and, as we shall discuss, a playfully transformative happy ending.

Close-Up documents the “true” story of a working class man (Hossein Sabzian) who impersonates the well-known post-Revolutionary director Mohsen Makhmalbaf in order to ingratiate himself into the world of a middle-class Tehrani family. The film combines the telling of this story with an account of its documentation by Kiarostami – who appears in the film as “himself” – often blurring the key distinctions between these parallel “worlds”. As a result of this, a conventional plot description or synopsis of the film is very difficult to produce, and is ultimately not all that useful. The later parts of the film are largely devoted to the court-case which recounts the events that lead up to Sabzian’s arrest, the film also including re-enactments of the various meetings between the bogus filmmaker and the family. In its final moments, the film shows us the aftermath of the trial and “stages” a meeting between Sabzian and the “real” Makhmalbaf.

In the process of all this, Close-Up pays an odd kind of homage to the importance of cinema for Sabzian and for Iranian life more generally. It also provides some indication of the significance and place of film culture within Tehran. As in many of Kiarostami’s films, we are unsure of how to take such revelations and allegiances, uncertain whether they reflect the actual state of things – and thus follow a more conventional documentary impulse – or a more playful arrangement of events and information. The film both documents and dramatises this story by using the actual participants, including extensive documentary footage of the subsequent court-case, discussions by and through Kiarostami with the various participants in the story. In so doing, Close-Up insists upon an umbilically close bond between cinema and everyday life, between one film or filmmaker and another. It exhibits and, as I will discuss, enables an encompassing intertextuality that is perhaps the key contribution of New Iranian cinema to what is called the film-on-film genre[5] . What I am suggesting here is that many Iranian films-on-film insist upon a kind of totalising intertextuality, a series of relations that link to a vast array of filmic, social, historical, cultural and even personal points of reference. These films commonly suggest an almost direct correspondence between the world of the film and the one in which it was made.

We are initially introduced to the film’s central character and subject (Sabzian) during his first meeting with Kiarostami at a police station. This encounter is initially filmed as if we are viewing the events through a “documentary” camera, one that appears surreptitiously hidden from the protagonist’s viewpoint. As the camera incessantly moves towards a closer view of its subject we become more aware of both the framing devices being used – of the pane of glass between camera and subject which should muffle their exchange – and the extraordinary intimacy and access that the film is offering. In the process, the film engages reflexively with its subject and audience and starts to get close up. Nevertheless, and unlike that of many other directors, Kiarostami’s reflexivity is gently all-encompassing. Much of the film to this point has already made us question various conventional markers of authenticity and fidelity, as well as foregrounded the activity of turning Sabzian’s actions into a recognisable, readable and filmable story. This is mainly achieved through the re-enactment of the actions of an investigative reporter on Sabzian’s case and the subsequent publishing of his story. Thus, the film’s credits finally arrive over images of a printing press that transforms Sabzian’s exploits into an explicitly narrativised form. Much of the rest of the film gives Sabzian the opportunity to respond to the public circulation of his story and its view of his motivations.

The subsequent discussion between Sabzian and Kiarostami in this scene quickly establishes the cinematic motivations of both characters, and thus the core theme of the film. Kiarostami is here to establish whether a film on this subject would be possible; Sabzian already seems to sense that his dream of being both a creator and subject of the cinema might be enabled by his actions and Kiarostami’s presence. For instance, Sabzian asks Kiarostami if he is able to “tell my story in pictures”, while declaring that Makhmalbaf’s “last film is my life”. As I will demonstrate, the blurring of boundaries between documentary and fiction, the world inside and outside of film, one film and another, the distinct roles of actor and director, person and role, are both characteristic of Kiarostami’s subsequent cinema and the genre that Close-Up reinvigorates, particularly within the context of Iranian cinema. But as Alberto Elena and Kiarostami have argued, the power of the film, and of many examples of this genre within Iranian cinema, is generated by the focus it places on the more fundamental aspects of human existence, as well as how they mesh with cinema:

Close-Up is not a film about cinema”, Kiarostami stated categorically; it is the portrait of a man who is searching, erratically but desperately, for his place in the world. It is only because his passion, the object of his desire and his source of comfort is the cinema that Close-Up is also about cinema.[6]

Nevertheless, the fact that the cinema emerges as such an “object” and “source of comfort” needs to be investigated.

Within Iran this genre can also work to partly naturalise the various privations and censorship requirements imposed on filmmakers, providing and promoting aspects of an aesthetic regimen and visual style. Thus, the preponderance of mid to long shots, the general absence of shot-reverse shot editing patterns, the difficulty of filming in interiors, specifically domestic spaces, the impossibility of showing actual physical contact between certain characters, or characters gazing into or close to the camera, are often used to establish both an aesthetic system and a particular perspective. This perspective, frequently positioned outside of situations, looking at the surfaces of objects, is somewhat naturalised by the act of making a film about such processes. The absences and privations imposed on the film become a naturalised and “inevitable” part of the film we see, dramatised in terms of the filmmaking process itself. Thus, the key attraction of the genre to many filmmakers and critics is how it is able to reinvigorate cinematic realism while upholding a significant veneer of modernist sophistication, identification with objectification, “sympathy” and critical distance, naturalism and formalism. Azadeh Farahmand sees such a combination as integral to Kiarostami’s aesthetic and its appeal to Western critics:

A structural composition common in Kiarostami’s visual style is the insertion of a mediating character through whom the viewer disavows an equal exchange and a compassionate involvement with others in the film. This makes Kiarostami a yet more powerful figure for the Western intellectual and the distant observer. The closest the viewer comes to the subjects (children, villagers, labourers, the disaster-stricken) is sympathy, not identification.[7]

The film-on-film genre commonly enables filmmakers to examine their own relationship to the cinema, and survey the peculiar traditions, variations and production conditions of their national cinema. It is a truly national, global and transnational genre – numerous films belonging to it, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt/Le Mépris (France/Italy 1963), Atom Egoyan’s Calendar (America/Canada/Germany 1993), and Kiarostami’s Through the Olives Trees (France/Iran 1994), dramatising the difficulties of making films across cultural, social, ethnic, sexual and national borders and boundaries. This focus is particularly significant within such a multicultural country as Iran. Although this cycle of films came to prominence in early 1990s Iran, it can be traced back to very early Persian cinema. Haji Agha, the Cinema Actor (Ovanes Ohanian), the first sound feature made in Persian in 1933, can also be said to belong to this genre[8] .

The Iranian rendition of the film-on-film genre includes movies that survey a range of approaches to the subject of the cinema, including: the importance of mobile cinemas to the circulation of films in Iran (Farhad Mehranfar’s Paper Airplanes, 1997); the fabulist legacy of early cinema (Makhmalbaf’s Once Upon a Time… Cinema, 1992); the difficulty of making films that truly reflect and represent women’s lives (Rakhshan Beni-Etemad’s The May Lady, 1998); the convoluted processes of censorship and the rush to present films at the annual Fajr International Film Festival (Daryush Mehrju’i’s Mix, 2000); the personal difficulties encountered by pre-Revolutionary directors attempting to make a comeback (Bahman Farmanara’s Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, 2000); the often contemplative, repetitive and “boring” actuality of filmmaking (Through the Olive Trees). Many of the most discussed and lauded directors of the New Iranian cinema have either dabbled in this genre or dedicated a key cycle of their work to the form. For example, after Close-Up both Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf became preoccupied with the subject of the cinema and its peculiar relation to everyday Iranian life. Although examples of the genre do periodically reappear in Iranian cinema, its key influence can be mapped across many of the most significant films and filmmakers of the 10-year period after Close-Up’s release. Kiarostami immediately moved onto films that progressively explored his own filmmaking method, experience and philosophy, including the final two parts of the “Koker trilogy” (And Life Goes On [aka Life and Nothing More, 1991] and Through the Olive Trees). As Godfrey Cheshire has argued, Kiarostami’s films in this mode can be regarded as responses to his escalating international reputation and an increasing awareness of how his work was being conceptualised and contextualised[9] .

The reflexive qualities found within Close-Up also open out a space for the production of such consequent works as Close-Up, Long Shot (Moslem Mansuri and Mahmud Shokrolahi, 1996), a documentary tracing Sabzian’s subsequent life, and Nanni Moretti’s The Day of the Premiere of ‘Close-Up’ (1996). Moretti’s short meta-fictional film provides a neat illustration of the open-ended expansiveness and generosity of Kiarostami’s film. In many ways Moretti recognises a link between his own work – which also blurs distinctions between cinema and life, the public and the personal – and that of Kiarostami. Like Close-Up, Moretti’s short is also a non-didactic lesson about the place of cinema within society. The different worlds of cinema appreciation, consumption and circulation represented by each film tell us much about the flows of international cinema. Thus, despite the best efforts of Moretti’s character to promote the Rome premiere of Close-Up – which really happened at Moretti’s own cinema – and emphasise its greatness, the film is actually watched by few people, swamped by the raft of big-budget Hollywood releases competing against it. Like Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf, Moretti’s view of the cinema is multi-faceted, incorporating and integrating the discussion of cultural, political, critical, aesthetic and economic forces.

Makhmalbaf himself subsequently made a series of four films, of increasing sophistication, that more aggressively explore both the public history and phenomenon of cinema and its more specific relation to Makhmalbaf’s endlessly evolving career, persona and celebrity. As Donato Totaro states, “What sets Makhmalbaf’s reflexivity apart from most is that it rarely exists for its own sake, but as part of an attempt at cultural and social enlightenment”[10] . Makhmalbaf’s films within this genre focus upon performance, the social and cultural roles people play both within and outside of the cinema. Characters in his films are commonly unable to distinguish the boundary between cinema and real life. For example, The Actor features a central protagonist who is unable to break free from the impression that he is always performing. When he stops on a highway to pick up his wife who has flung herself from their car, a crowd gathers and responds as if he is in the process of filming. Their movement into “frame” seems to occur almost effortlessly, the lack of an adequate filming apparatus within the scene irrelevant to their belief that this actor and life are simultaneously real and cinematic.

I will now briefly discuss two quotations from Kiarostami that help further clarify my discussion of the documentary qualities of Close-Up, his cinema more broadly, and the close correspondences between cinema and everyday life found and represented in these Iranian films: “The best thing that art can do is to give people detailed knowledge, not to make judgements”[11] ; ”Florists do the same thing. They don’t make the flowers, they just find the best arrangement.”[12]  So what can we do with such statements, and what can they tell us about specific tendencies within Iranian cinema and their relation to documentary and realist film? Basically, these statements act to remind us how much Kiarostami’s films rely upon such practices as the use of actual locations, non-professional actors, and only partially formed shooting scripts, as well as the interlocution of daily life and cinema. This “detailed knowledge” and lack of judgement, or indeed “flower arranging”, that Kiarostami talks about highlights the ways in which many examples of Iranian cinema represent, document, seemingly reflect, arrange and ornament aspects of everyday life, often focusing on children, quotidian actions and what might seem like trivial or even naive events (including the “boring” pragmatics of filmmaking). For example, Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon (Iran 1995) revolves around a little girl’s attempts to buy a goldfish and is told in real-time; while the Kiarostami-scripted The Key (Ebrahim Foruzesh, 1987) shows us the actions of a young boy trying to find the key to his apartment – when he does so the image freezes and the film ends. The common technique of ending a film with a freeze-frame is part-and-parcel of the constant tension between realism and formal self-consciousness in Iranian cinema. The freeze reveals the basic mechanism of the medium – as a collection of animated still images – while also suggesting the random, abrupt or inappropriate nature of such a stilling or ending to these Iranian films.

Close-Up is a also a useful example to examine because it fits into an accepted paradigm of “Third World” cinema – which represents simple, iconic and indigenous actions and events, while, in this case giving us some sense of how people live, the legal system, and how they respond to the medium of cinema – while also being formally adventurous and self-conscious about its ability to adequately represent these “real” events. So such realist techniques as the unguarded performances of the actors, the way the characters and camera encounter events (sometimes posing as a hidden camera surreptitiously filming things), a soundtrack that features street noise and imperfections, framing that commonly obscures things, showing us only a partial, restricted view, all common in observational documentary and Iranian cinema more generally, are joined by such self-conscious or materialist aspects as: the alternation between the two cameras in the court room scenes; the obvious restaging of the meeting between Sabzian and the family’s mother presented as an almost unmotivated flashback; direct address to the camera; and the odd mixing of temporalities, particularly within the family’s house, where the distinctions between interviews carried out after the fact by Kiarostami and those restaged to document Sabzian’s capture are initially quite unclear[13] .

Nevertheless, one of the most remarkable qualities of Close-Up is that it uses these techniques in a fashion that counters their common usage. Thus, for example, we wonder whether the sound that cuts in and out during the final scene – as Sabzian rides pinion on Makhmalbaf’s motorbike as they journey to the family’s house – is a sign of documentary fidelity or an effect explicitly created to give this impression. We may also start to wonder whether this matters due to the close bond the film insists upon between the cinema and the world it represents. As I will argue, this has some strong correspondences to the work of Roberto Rossellini, in particular his decision to use real American soldiers to play soldiers – badly – in the first section of his 1946 film Paisà (italy 1946). But even such a seemingly hyper-realist work as the seminal The White Balloon, which does not concern itself with the making of a film, seems, on a second viewing, heavily patterned and formally composed. The seeming actuality of the opening scene reveals its intricate staging as many of the characters we subsequently meet can already be observed permeating the mise-en-scene. But, as is common in Iranian cinema, this realisation has a dual effect. We definitely start to question the realism of the film and notice its careful composition, but we are also granted a sense of the concrete and interrelated nature of the world we are witnessing. These are figures who are characters in a film but they are also people who circulate throughout a particular world. This is one of several ways in which many of these films blur the conventional distinctions and boundaries between fiction and documentary, the world of and around the film.

Although Close-Up has been claimed as “the greatest documentary about filmmaking I have ever seen” by German director Werner Herzog[14] , I want to claim its status as both a documentary and a fictional work. Herzog’s laudatory comment speaks volumes about both the international status of Iranian cinema and the difficulties we might encounter in trying to adequately describe, discuss, analyse and place it (although its links to a broader, international neo-realism is also a key). Unlike such French directors as Godard (Contempt and Grandeur et décadence d’un petit commerce du cinéma, 1986), François Truffaut (Day for Night, 1973), and Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, 1996), all of whom have produced significant works in the film-on-film genre, neither Makhmalbaf nor Kiarostami could be classed as cinephiles. Jonathan Rosenbaum states: “I’ve never met a filmmaker who qualifies as less of a cinephile than Kiarostami. Though filmmaking recurs as a subject throughout his work, this has more to do with his relation to the world as a filmmaker than to his relation to cinema per se.”[15]  Thus, Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf’s films do not generally provide a critical and/or laudatory account of cinematic traditions or influences, and are seldom marked by in-jokes or direct citations of other films. Kiarostami’s work rarely establishes a noticeable dialogue with films outside of a particular series. Nevertheless, the numerous pictures of Charlie Chaplin adorning the walls of the protagonist’s home in The Actor, the movie buff tailor of A Moment of Innocence (Iran/France 1997), the hilarious “impersonations” of Hollywood stars and forms in Salaam Cinema (Iran 1995), and the numerous excerpts from and references to Iranian film history in the meta-cinematic Once Upon a Time… Cinema (Iran 1992), do draw Makhmalbaf’s work closer to the cinephiliac norms of the genre. These connections perhaps indicate Makhmalbaf’s own relative immersion in film history (after the Revolution), an encounter which, by his own admission, took place mainly through books rather than films. On the whole, these director’s films are less representations of the world of film than the world that could become (or is becoming) film.

Even though his work in this mode shares many qualities with that of Kiarostami – particularly in his most indebted work, A Moment of Innocence – Makhmalbaf’s films-on-film tend to be more fantastical, closer to the kinds of early Persian examples that inform Once Upon a Time… Cinema and the work of Federico Fellini (such as 1963’s 8?), than the neo-realist or documentary models often claimed for Kiarostami. Despite his reticence in claiming any cinematic heritage, it is not surprising that Kiarostami has conceded the influence of Italian neo-realism on his work, and the importance of his youthful encounter with this form. The creative treatment of reality found in Rossellini’s work, as well as the close bond he forged between actor and role, seem to be particular touchstones for Kiarostami. But, as Cheshire has suggested, Kiarostami’s cinema is equally (and undoubtedly considerably more) influenced by earlier Iranian cinema and poetry, particularly the modernist work of Forough Farrokhzad and Sohrab Sepehri[16] . Although he has been quick to deny the direct or self-conscious influence of Iranian visual traditions, there are also some interesting connections between his work and Persian miniatures, particularly in terms of the rendering of landscape and the relation of human figures to it. As Cheshire has asked of Iranian cinema more generally: “But what of the cinema’s place? To an extent that has no real parallel in the West, these films seem to situate the medium within a realm already occupied by other media, traditions, modes of expression.”[17]  Thus, we must be careful to discuss both the international and Iranian contexts these films emerge from, as well as those they are subsequently placed within.

Rather than endlessly chasing its own tail in the manner of many “mockumentaries” and films-on-film – which commonly try to cancel out or put into question a film’s ability to represent actual events, to truly show us things, to provide a “window onto the world” – Close-Up establishes an enabling tradition for others to work within. But, as I will argue, the common focus of these Iranian films on the everyday pragmatics of filmmaking is very uncommon in the broader international genre (with the exception of such works as Truffaut’s less critical and more softhearted Day for Night [18] ). Nevertheless, we do need to be careful when comparing these films to what I have identified as their counterparts outside of Iran. Although it is useful to discuss the connections between such works as Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (Iran 2000) and Fellini’s 8 1/2(Italy/France 1963), both of which deal with the existential crisis suffered by directors in the process of conceiving a film, it is also important to highlight the links between Iranian cinema and the broader national, cultural and aesthetic traditions it belongs to. Thus, although Farmanara’s film does share qualities with the self-reflexive work of Fellini – whose films were relatively widely shown in Iran prior to the Revolution – its particular reflexive approach should also be linked to both Persian literature (for example, the endlessly generative storytelling of The Thousand and One Nights) and such ancient theatrical forms as taziyeh. The incorporative nature of taziyeh, which relies upon both a close identification with and objectification of characters by the audience, as well as a blurring and increased awareness of the boundary between stage and non-stage, play and the ongoing tapestry of real life, is of particular relevance to the Iranian rendition of this genre. Not surprisingly, Kiarostami has himself staged taziyeh in Italy and discussed the influence of it upon his work around the time of Through the Olive Trees:

Many of the audience believe my films are documentaries, as if it just happened that there was a camera there to record them. I think if the audience knows they are watching a performance, something which has been constructed, they will understand it more than they would in a documentary film. Although everything happens so simply in Taazieh, the audience is very much involved – though they know they are witnessing a performance, they still express extreme emotional reactions to it.[19]

Kiarostami has also claimed that he “found distanciation in Taazieh”[20] , and thus an important link between an ancient theatrical tradition and the modernist and materialist theatrical practice of Brecht. It is this organic distanciation – where audiences become fully aware of and engaged in the work before them – that constitutes a key component of taziyeh and what Kiarostami has described as “a half-fabricated cinema, an unfinished cinema that is completed by the creative spirit of the viewer”[21] . Whereas many films-on-film can be criticised for their solipsistic view of the world, Kiarostami’s work in this mode points “in the opposite direction: towards an engagement with the richness of the world outside the screen”[22] .

In the majority of these Iranian films the status of image and sound – is it restaged or actuality? scripted or spontaneous? – and the moral and philosophical questions this engages (surely Close-Up’s most fascinating aspect) are contested. This aspect is emblematised by Panahi’s second film, The Mirror (Iran 1997), a work which could almost be regarded as a “how to” guide for making an Iranian film-on-film. Panahi’s attraction to this genre is not surprising, as he had previously worked as Kiarostami’s assistant on Through the Olive Trees, while his first feature, The White Balloon, was scripted by Kiarostami. Thus, his initial work shows the strong formal and thematic influence of Kiarostami’s films about the cinema. The initial scenes of the film doggedly follow and document the journey of the young female protagonist home on a bus. At around the half way point, the film changes register, the main actor declaring directly to the camera that she no longer wants to be in this seemingly realist film anymore. At this point the film shifts into a period of chaos, as the realist illusion facilitated by the fusion of image and sound, naturalistic performances, and the film’s general immediacy, is shattered. But the film quickly reorientates itself, grasping the close proximity of the worlds inhabited by the character and the actor. With little fanfare the film continues, shifting from fiction to seeming documentary. The rest of the film shows the attempts by the crew to catch up with and document the actions of the character/star. Thus, it is about a character who seemingly wants to escape the cinema, their character, but can’t. As I am suggesting, this is an important metaphor in and for the New Iranian cinema.

It is also a typical tendency of many Iranian films to explore the links between the world in and of the film, the direct connections between the act of filmmaking and the community itself. This is in contrast to many non-Iranian films about the cinema which emphasise the separation between these states or realms. The work of Makhmalbaf, Kiarostami and Panahi is often isolated in this respect, but this is a general, if often less rigorously self-conscious and filmmaking-focused, vein that runs throughout the New Iranian cinema. For example, Samira Makhmalbaf’s first feature film, The Apple (Iran/France 1998), seems to take its lead from two films in particular: Close-Up and A Moment of Innocence. Both of these films playfully explore the interpolation of cinema into everyday Iranian life, blurring the distinction between elements that are dramatised for and by the camera.

Though influenced by these two films, both of which feature performances by Mohsen as “himself”, The Apple stakes out rather different territory. Whereas both Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami’s films present a meditative layer between events and their representation, The Apple is more straightforward and direct. As with Close-Up, it is the almost immediate response to unfolding events that defines the film. Within four days of the story of the 11-year imprisonment of two young girls’ in a Tehrani suburb breaking in the local media, Samira started filming and re-enacting the girls’ first responses to this new, legally sanctioned freedom. The courage and spontaneity of the filmmaker’s approach is one of the film’s most remarkable qualities. We actually witness these two characters’ first unmediated encounters with the world outside their barred back door. Filmed in chronological order over 11 days – first on video and then film (and such movements between formats and stock is also common in this cinema) – the film documents subtle changes in the ways the girls’ speak, move and interact with other people, mostly children, in the street. It is only gradually that the girls begin to truly investigate this external environment, gaining a relative confidence that moves them out from under the repressive paternalism that has totally circumscribed their existence to this point.

Like much of the work of Mohsen, The Apple explores processes of socialisation, documenting the subtle and not so subtle nuances of class and gender division. It is also perhaps through the access granted to the film crew, and the involvement of all the major figures in the actual events (including the widely criticised father and blind mother), that one can gauge the extraordinary power and importance of cinema in modern day Iran. Like the other films discussed here, The Apple also examines the role of cinema not just in the representation but also in the ongoing activity of everyday life. But we must be careful to always recognise the critical dimension of these films as well, their common wish to both celebrate and question the role, power and ubiquity of cinema as a form of social mobility within Iranian society. As Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa argues: “Close-Up shows how cinema, the most popular form of entertainment in Iran, has become perceived as a means to access power overnight (like basketball for American blacks) – a kind of work that requires no education and just a little luck.”[23]

Ultimately, the cinema of Close-Up emerges as a questionably collaborative form, the film’s literal direction determined by the characters’ actions (who decide upon the kind of film they want, and the lesson of cinema that it will offer). This creates a world where actors play characters based on themselves. For example, it is impossible to determine whether Sabzian is performing for the court or the cinema, the more “objective” camera that frames the broader court proceedings or the one which captures him in close-up, whether his role reveals his true character – predicated on a love of cinema, a humble respect for directors like Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf – or just another layer of performance. It is also impossible to adjudicate whether the family’s ultimate forgiveness of his “crime” is determined by Sabzian’s apology, his argument’s strength – which is mostly about the power of cinema – or the presence of Kiarostami’s camera. Is their forgiveness encouraged by the transformative and healing qualities of the cinema, or just how they will be perceived when the film is screened? It is in relation to such outcomes that the film can be said to return to the “cinema of questions” discussed at the outset of this essay.

I will now briefly examine the opening moments of Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees, a film and sequence which exemplify and illustrate many of the key qualities of New Iranian cinema and its take on the film-on-film genre, particularly its ability to move between naturalism and artifice, between layers of fictionality, between documentary and fiction, between production and reception.

Through the Olive Trees is the third film in Kiarostami’s “Koker trilogy”, a series of films shot in a rural region north of Tehran. Close-Up was completed between the first and second films and reflects a set of similar concerns. This trilogy involves a layering of fictional levels, with each subsequent film not so much following but emerging from its predecessor and providing an emblem of the generative model of this genre I discussed earlier. In the first of the trilogy, Where is the Friend’s House?, released in 1987, a young boy seeks to find his friend in order to return his writing pad – his friend has been threatened with punishment if he doesn’t complete his homework within his own exercise book. The film’s style follows many of the conventions of realist cinema, utilising everyday events, non-professional actors drawn from the region the film was shot in, actual locations, and effacing the filmmaking process itself. Thus, there isn’t too much play with the formal parameters of film style here except in relation to framing, the placement of the camera, and the film’s playful use of repetition and variation. The second film, And Life Goes On, released in 1991, shows the supposed director of the first film (though not played by Kiarostami) returning to the villages where the two main actors in the first film lived after an earthquake has occurred. This earthquake really happened and over 50000 people died. He never finds the boys and the film uses this search to observe and document events and characters that are uncovered in the spaces the camera films and encounters (and it is generally accurate to describe many of Kiarostami’s films as road movies, odysseys of encounter). Through the Olive Trees, the third film released in 1994, focuses on the filming – actually a restaging – of a few brief scenes from the second film.

Even from the brief description given above, it is plainly evident that this is not a conventional trilogy. It is thus not surprising that Cheshire has made claims for its unique contribution to film history: “To my knowledge the cinema presents no obvious parallels to this extraordinary endeavor, which is at once dizzily self-referential and searchingly moral, Pirandello twinned with Rossellini”[24] . This series signals a process of refinement and one could argue, increased sophistication – from naiveté to self-consciousness as the films concentrate on ever more minute detail and internalise or “fictionalise” the previous entry in the series. In the process, the three films become a kind of palimpsest. Each subsequent entry in the series not so much obliterating its previous “source”, as writing over it, making us reread and rethink what we have previously seen and heard. Oddly this process of internalisation does not really have the effect of qualifying the previous film’s content, or fictionalising it, as it commonly would in this genre.

Although, as Cheshire argues, this trilogy is unique within film history, Kiarostami’s approach does share some similarities with Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (USA 1962), a work that transforms its predecessor, The Bad and the Beautiful (USA 1952), into a film made by the characters in the subsequent film. Two Weeks in Another Town also had its own generative role, acting as the partial motivation and aesthetic model (mainly in terms of its rendering of colour) for Godard’s Contempt, a film substantially shot in the same Cinecittà location. It is also tempting to take Kiarostami’s own comments about the region around Koker being his own Cinecittà, as providing a significant link to these earlier films in the genre (as well as to the seminal 8 1/2, also shot at Cinecittà). But, as discussed earlier, there is little in Kiarostami’s “series” that encourages us to place it within such a lineage or intertextual web. Minnelli’s films always seem highly artificial – this is partly a sign of his greatness as a master manipulator of mise-en-scene – and the lessons of filmmaking they provide don’t seem particularly revelatory of Minnelli’s own experience. They are interesting representations of the shifting values and practices of Hollywood across a difficult ten-year period, but one never really feels that we are “actually” watching a kind of mirror held up to the production of the film unfolding before us. Godard reflexively plays with such a mirror throughout Contempt, particularly in its opening shot – featuring a tracking camera moving straight towards us and which also blurs distinctions between character and actor – but such reflective correspondences between the story world and the world of its creation take on a deeper, all-encompassing, though less aggressively reflexive form in Through the Olive Trees. On the whole, this is a key difference of Iranian films within the film-on-film genre. The purpose of such self-reflexivity in many Iranian films is less to break the illusion of filmic reality, than to register the close relationship between the two worlds on either side of this “equation”. As a result of this, the reflexive dimension of these films is less “aggressive”, considerably less prone to drawing the audience out of a particular mood, mode of address, or even fiction.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to overstate the unfettered realism, authenticity and integrative reflexivity of Kiarostami’s work. His films are also loaded with moments which make us question how they represent things (not unlike the work of Yasujiro Ozu in this respect). Thus, a number of the settings for Where is the Friend’s House? were constructed or attenuated for the filming. Most famously, the zigzag path that the young protagonist runs up and down at several points in the film was created for the production. But it then became part of the landscape, glimpsed by the central character of And Life Goes On, returning as a persistent pattern in Through the Olive Trees. Thus, the transformative effect of film production as a human activity can be said to parallel the ongoing lives of those who routinely inhabit and mark the landscape. This is also why Kiarostami features unprofessional actors playing characters who are very like their real-life personas (often sharing names). Thus, when Hossein flubs his lines repeatedly in the scene from And Life Goes On restaged in Through the Olive Trees, we can understand the difficulty he has in demarcating his character’s experience from his own. Similarly, it is initially a little jarring for the audience when a character from And Life Goes On admits that the house he is now living in is not his own, but one appropriated for the filming. This character is one of the actors from Where is the Friend’s House?, and much of his dialogue is dedicated to highlighting the connections and differences between his fictionalised and “real-life” characters. It is also quite revealing that Kiarostami places this admission within the sequence that is then partially “refilmed” in Through the Olive Trees.

Such wonderfully convoluted moments make us not so much question as reconsider the relationship between the cinema and the events, places and lives it represents. And Life Goes On can be regarded as a reconstruction of Kiarostami’s own journey to the region immediately after the earthquake (it was mostly shot about a year later). But Kiarostami is always scrupulous in reminding us that what we are viewing is deeply enmeshed in and responsive to a physical reality, as well as a particular reconstruction of it. This is part of the reason why Kiarostami’s films often seem both so much of the moment and timeless, immediate and exquisitely meditative, proximate and distanced. As Kiarostami states, this has much to do with his respect for reality and the activity of the audience: “I agree that you have to be absorbed by the film. But not to the extent that you forget that you’re watching a film. Every film is ultimately a reenactment of reality, not that reality itself. I don’t like movies to make their audiences react in a very emotional way.”[25]

Through the Olive Trees’ opening sequence shows the “director” plucking a female actor from amongst the citizens of the region the film is shot in. It is difficult to get a sense of what we are watching here. Are the girls responding to the director as if he is Kiarostami, much in the way that the family responds to Sabzian as if he is Makhmalbaf, or the way he becomes a kind of director in Close-Up? Are we actually watching the process of selection for the woman who is then to feature in the film, even though she is different from the one who appears in the corresponding scene of And Life Goes On? This uncertainty is furthered by the techniques that Kiarostami uses. The character of the director announces that he is a professional actor – one of very few in Kiarostami’s cinema – playing a role and then immediately enters into a dramatised situation, becomes the character, within the same shot. As with much of the rest of the film it is difficult to distinguish between the act of filming, what it observes and becomes fascinated with, and the life of the community “around” the film. This movingly suggests the connection rather than separation of real life and cinema, even if, as Kiarostami suggests in this essay’s opening quotation, the former is more important than the latter.
In Kiarostami’s world they are actually virtually indistinguishable.

In this cinema it seems possible for audiences to cross over into the world of film, as non-professional actors, as bystanders, as extras auditioning for the role in another film, in a fashion that is not possible in most other cinemas. For example, Sabzian may have attempted his fraud partly because he suspects it might lead to his appearance in an actual film. But this pathway is conceived very differently to the film-on-film’s conventions – where the road to involvement in the movie business is predicated on hard work and the mercurial nature of talent and stardom. This is true, for example, of both Classical Hollywood versions of A Star is Born (William Wellman, 1937 and George Cukor, 1954) and its chief model, What Price Hollywood? (George Cukor, 1932). In these Iranian films-on-film it is possible for almost anyone to cross between realms because there is so little that separates them. This possibility is of course heightened by specific aesthetic and economic considerations as well – it is of course “easier” and cheaper to film in this fashion – but it is also an outcome of the philosophical, moral and ethical paths these films take. This porous boundary between cinema and non-cinema, as well as fiction and documentary, is often what makes these Iranian films so refreshing and fascinating.

The opening scene of Through the Olive Trees also offers an index, almost a how to, of neo-realist film practice, reinforcing the link to Rossellini discussed earlier. There is also an expressed affinity with cinéma vérité, a documentary form that routinely reflects upon the filmmaking process and the effects it has on the subjects and events being filmed. For example, Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin included a “cast” screening of the film they had made to that point in Chronique d’un été (France 1961), this screening and the subsequent response providing the film’s conclusion. Like many of these Iranian films, this more self-aware process also examines and questions the ethics of filmmaking itself. Rossellini’s comments about the making of Paisà, reinforce the connections between these three movements:

To choose my actors for Paisan, I placed myself, with my cameraman, in the center of the village where I meant to shoot such and such an episode of the story. The passersby immediately gathered around us and so I picked my actors out of the crowd… Amidei [the film’s scriptwriter] and I never complete our scripts before we get to the locations where we are going to shoot the film. Often circumstances as well as the performers that chance has brought us, force us to change our original plans. Even the dialogue and its intonation depend on the amateur actors who are going to utter it; all we have to do is leave the performers the time to get adjusted to the atmosphere of the shooting. So, Paisan is a film without actors in the proper sense of the word.[26]

Rossellini’s statement can be usefully compared to much of Close-Up and its determination of subject, performers, events, locations, and approach to filmmaking. It also resonates closely with Through the Olive Trees’ opening scene where the filmmaker enters into a situation, chooses actors, improvises, responds to local conditions, lets things unfold in everyday time, and generally shows an interest in people, the way they act, move, speak, interact, argue, and create a complex web of community. As Kiarostami states of his affinity with Rossellini: “We use the same source – we fish from the stream; we don’t use tins.”[27]  This analogy with fishing is, of course, highly evocative, pinpointing the selective, contemplative, concentrated, adaptive and human dimensions of both director’s work. Kiarostami builds on Rossellini’s example and practice by dramatising and presenting the kind of encounter discussed by Rossellini above.

This humanistic, incorporative quality also encapsulates the final scenes of Close-Up, granting its characters a kind of ultimate happy ending. Kiarostami inevitably completes a film on the power of cinema and its centrality to Iranian life that fuses his interests in documentary and fictional cinema. Makhmalbaf meets the man who has impersonated him – and who to some degree confirms his celebrity – and subsequently went on to make his own series of films about the nature of cinema. Nevertheless, I think we need to be careful not to overstate the utopic dimensions of Kiarostami’s films in this mode (especially as the description of these films often immediately gives this impression). The making of Close-Up does seem to have partly transformed its characters’ lives, but we are still asked to question their motivations and reasons for doing things (and to consider what happens outside of and after the film). Close-Up is also a discourse on the exploitative nature of the cinema and its representation of real/reel life. The film’s final images reveal a degree of reconciliation but they also suggest the difficulties the characters may face after the film ends and its goodwill fades. Sabzian rings the doorbell of the family’s home and introduces himself using his real name. The family does not respond and he quickly – and desperately – resorts to the earlier impersonation (despite or because Makhmalbaf is now by his side). We are left with the stilled image of Sabzian outside of the house – the stage that has brought him to fame – as the final, somewhat patronising words of the family’s father gently resound in our ears: “I hope he’ll be good and make us proud of him.”

Whereas a relative distance from its subjects marks Kiarostami’s cinema in this mode – for example, Rosenbaum has discussed his repeated use of the “cosmic long shot”[28]  – Makhmalbaf’s films are defined by a greater sense of immediacy, physicality and proximity. Makhmalbaf’s films on the subject of cinema deal more directly with the medium as a cultural and social institution (not just in terms of its power), a public phenomenon in which the distinctions between cinema and everyday life, as well as the culture circulating around cinematic reception and filmmaking practice, are seldom clear or straightforward. But whereas Salaam Cinema opens with the extraordinary and sometimes quite terrifying footage of a throng of cinematic hopefuls pushing and shoving each other to gain entrance to Makhmalbaf’s studio (very unlike the more benign throng at the opening of Through the Olive Trees), A Moment of Innocence proceeds from a far more ritualistic, matter-of-fact and measured encounter: a police officer, looking for acting work, is questioned by Makhmalbaf’s daughter (Hana), leading us into the story of the film that we are about to see. It therefore relies on a tension between the “actual” and the restaged that is similar to Close-Up. Salaam Cinema endlessly chases its own tail in its probing, though often quite comic, portrait of the autocratic power and control endemic to the mechanism and institution of cinema (the role of the director in particular). A Moment of Innocence places a greater emphasis on the medium’s gentler nature, examining the potential it offers as a vehicle of reconciliation and catharsis. The potential anarchy that is always hovering above Salaam Cinema is replaced by a more ordered and self-conscious aesthetic punctuated by lengthy discussions between characters and the title-cards and clapperboards which formally break-up the film.

The cinema of Makhmalbaf is difficult to conceptualise and summarise (even the re-telling of his films’ plots can get pretty confusing). While Kiarostami’s work is largely defined by a unity of style, theme and tone, as well as a mastery of mise-en-scene, Makhmalbaf’s oeuvre is much more schizophrenic and restless, routinely shifting in response to particular preoccupations and aesthetic considerations, as well as social and political conditions. Makhmalbaf’s cinema is also stylistically and tonally diverse, moving from more hysterical and straightforwardly committed (or angry) films like Marriage of the Blessed (1989) to more tranquil, glacial works like A Moment of Innocence. In fact, for those who are only familiar with Makhmalbaf’s important earlier films such as Boycott (Iran 1986) and The Cyclist (Iran 1987), A Moment of Innocence will seem like a significant departure, closer to Kiarostami’s “Koker trilogy” than to its seeming precursor in Makhmalbaf’s career, Salaam Cinema.

Though never totally regulated in style or mood, A Moment of Innocence still manages to communicate a palpably physical sense of its wintry environment, while also exploring the city of Tehran through its characters who traverse down lanes or are shot in long take through the windscreens of cars (which, revealingly, is also one of the dominant visual motifs of Kiarostami’s cinema). Nevertheless, whereas Kiarostami’s films in this mode are generally preoccupied with the transformative effect filming has on the world which surrounds it, and vice-versa, Makhmalbaf’s films are more directly concerned with the historical and cultural legacy of cinema in Iran (see, for example, the wonderfully playful scene in A Moment of Innocence featuring a Kirk Douglas and John Wayne-obsessed tailor who discusses his own cinema-going exploits in Tehran prior to the Revolution). Not surprisingly, it is Kiarostami’s slightly atypical Close-Up that provides the closest prototype for Makhmalbaf’s films in this mode (which are generally more aggressively reflexive than Kiarostami’s). Rosenbaum sees a directly critical dimension within Makhmalbaf’s work, regarding Salaam Cinema “as a polemical response to Through the Olive Trees[29] , skewering its portrait of the benignly patriarchal director.

Amongst the most remarkable qualities of the New Iranian cinema are the ways in which it reorganises and makes us think anew the relationship between fact and fantasy, society and cinema, fictional narrative and “documentary” realist cinema. Films such as Salaam CinemaA Moment of InnocenceThe MirrorClose-Up, Mohsen Amiryousseffi’s Bitter Dream (Iran 2005) and Kiarostami’s “Koker trilogy” explore a meta-cinematic and meta-realistic realm in which everyone is a potential actor. This can be sensed, for example, in the fluid ways in which people/characters move from being documentary subjects to actors in A Moment of Innocence. For example, in one scene two of the young characters comment on a woman who is begging off camera. Later in the film, we see a begging woman who is given bread by one of these characters. She then converses with the cameraman who, in turn, questions the legitimacy of her performance. The appropriateness and justness of his response is questioned or qualified by the fact that she may actually be hungry, and is not just acting. But this fluidity is also the product of the framework that these films establish.

Although Makhmalbaf foregrounds the role of the director in his films-on-film, mainly through his own performance as “Makhmalbaf” in Salaam Cinema and A Moment of Innocence, it is Kiarostami who provides the most sustained and nuanced representation of the director in his films. This “self-portrait” is initiated in several of his earlier documentaries such as Homework (Iran 1989), but is first fully deployed in Close-Up. In keeping with the analytical and questioning dimensions of his cinema, Kiarostami and Sabzian pointedly discuss this aspect of representation towards the end of the film’s court-case. Kiarostami asks him whether he prefers the role of actor or director. Sabzian replies that although the role of the filmmaker is also acting, he would rather play his “own role”. Even though the film has shown us a particular representation of the director’s activity in shaping events and transforming reality, such a distinction between director and actor, and who does what, is yet again one of the dichotomies questioned by the film(s). In his subsequent films, Kiarostami has often returned to the substance of Sabzian’s reply, self-consciously placing actors in the role of the director that could and perhaps should have been taken by Kiarostami. Nevertheless, this should not stop us from regarding these figures as fractured self-portraits, moving from the troublingly benign figure in the often-serene Through the Olive Trees to the much more cynical and abrasive protagonist of The Wind Will Carry Us(1999).

Ultimately, it is the actor who is the recurring motif and subject of Makhmalbaf’s cinema. By restaging the “emblematic” events of the past, A Moment of Innocence expands the definition of acting to a wider circle of artistic, social, cultural, political and filmic actions. Everything becomes “performance” in the film, but this does not imply or underline its “fakeness”. As such, even a seemingly insignificant aside by the movie-loving tailor can take on a broader resonance: when speaking of not needing a role in Makhmalbaf’s forthcoming film – which his appearance paradoxically grants him – he cites his past “performance” parading up and down in front of Tehran’s cinemas in the early 1960s as enough to make him a star. It is this intimate, ever-burgeoning and blurred relationship between filmmaking and film culture, things inside and outside of a film, that is the ultimate preoccupation of much of the New Iranian cinema. This is despite the extreme anti-cinema prohibitions and rhetoric of the immediate post-Revolutionary era. Though aspirational and fabulist, A Moment of Innocence tells and teaches us much about the paltriness and lack of dynamism of such connections in most national cinemas.

Ultimately, in the supreme but matter-of-fact meta-cinema of Close-Up, Sabzian actually becomes an actor and a kind of director within a film by Kiarostami, co-starring Makhmalbaf. Many of the fraudulent promises he makes to the family are actually fulfilled by the film we see (perhaps a factor in his ultimate pardon). This further emphasises the power of cinema as a transformative medium, one that can fulfill promises but that also has a particular relation to questions of truth. The family does appear in a film that is widely distributed and is now regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema. In a sense, everyone gets what they want, the film ending with a final moment of reconciliation, identification and possible fusion between Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, Sabzian and the family. Ultimately, we do get close up, are offered a kind of gift (as are the film’s participants), but we are also asked to question the veracity of what we see and to regard the film’s final freeze-frame as a brief stalling of a never-ending interlocution of cinema and everyday life. The story, life, the world, the cinema, and even the film, go on…


[1] Kiarostami in Pat Aufderheide, “Real Life is More Important than Cinema: An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami”, Cineaste 21.3 (July 1995): 32.
[2] Kiarostami in Farah Neyeri, “Abbas Kiarostami in Interview”, Sight and Sound 3.12 (December 1993): 27.
[3] See Godfrey Cheshire, “Abbas Kiarostami: A Cinema of Questions”, Film Comment 32.4 (July-August 1996): 34-6, 41-3.
[4] Kiarostami in Philip Lopate, “Interview with Abbas Kiarostami”, Totally, Tenderly, Tragically, New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1998, 359.
[5] Partly due to its transnational nature, and its intermittent appearance within most national cinemas, this genre has seldom been adequately discussed or conceptualised. Hollywood films about filmmaking have perhaps understandably dominated discussion, but this genre overall often has pertinent things to say about cinema history, specific production conditions, the place of cinema within the national imaginary, cultural imperialism, and the common tension between art and commerce. Within the Iranian context, this tension is reconfigured in terms of the battle (or correspondence) between cinema and society. For a discussion of the Hollywood-on-Hollywood film, see Christopher Ames, Movies about the Movies: Hollywood Reflected, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. The most expansive international account of this genre, and the broader practices of cinematic reflexivity, is found in Robert Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.
[6] Alberto Elena, The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami, trans. Belinda Coombes, London: SAQI, 2005, 89.
[7] Azadeh Farahmand, “Perspectives on Recent (International Acclaim for) Iranian Cinema”, The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation and Identity, ed. Richard Tapper, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2002, 100.
[8] For a detailed discussion of early Iranian cinema and its historiography, see Negar Mottahedeh, “Collection and Recollection: On Studying the Early History of Motion Pictures in Iran”, Early Popular Visual Culture 6.2 (July 2008): 103-20.
[9] Godfrey Cheshire, “Abbas Kiarostami: Seeking a Home”, Projections 8: Film-makers on Film-making, ed. John Boorman and Walter Donohue, London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1998, 215.
[10] Donato Totaro, “Reflexivity in Recent Iranian Cinema: The Case of Mohsen Makhmalbaf”, Asian Cinema 11.2 (Fall-Winter 2000): 35.
[11] Miriam Rosen, “The Camera of Art: An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami”, Cineaste 19.2-3 (1992): 39.
[12] Aufderheide, 32.
[13] Such stylistic qualities have led many Western critics to compare specific Iranian films and filmmakers to their modernist, and even postmodernist, counterparts elsewhere. Though such an approach recognises that Iranian films are not made in a nationalist cultural vacuum, it nevertheless distorts the meaning and origins of specific aesthetic devices and choices.
[14] Cheshire, “Abbas Kiarostami: A Cinema of Questions”, 42.
[15] Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Fill in the Blanks”, Chicago Reader (29 May 1998):
[16] For a useful discussion of the perils of predominantly “exterior” readings of Iranian cinema see Godfrey Cheshire, “How to Read Kiarostami”, Cineaste 25.4 (2000): 8-15.
[17]Godfrey Cheshire, “Where Iranian Cinema is”, Film Comment 29.2 (March-April 1993): 43.
[18] In one rare instance, Kiarostami claims an affinity with certain works about cinema by Truffaut. See Nayeri, 28.
[19]Nassia Hamid, “Near and Far”, Sight and Sound 7.2 (February 1997): 24.
[20] Hamid, 24.
[21] Rosenbaum.
[22] Steve Erickson, “Taste of Cherry”, Film Quarterly 52.3 (Spring 1999): 54.
[23] Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum, Abbas Kiarostami, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003, 48.
[24]  Cheshire, “Abbas Kiarostami: A Cinema of Questions”, 41.
[25] Kiarostami in Lopate, 358-9.
[26] Rossellini interviewed by Georges Sadoul, “A Great Italian Filmmaker: Roberto Rossellini”, Roberto Rossellini, My Method: Writings and Interviews, ed. Adriano Aprà, New York: Marsilio, 1995, 19.
[27] Nayeri, 28.
[28]  Rosenbaum, “Fill in the Blanks”.
[29]  Saeed-Vafa and Rosenbaum, 93.

Created on: Tuesday, 22 December 2009

About the Author

Adrian Danks

About the Author

Adrian Danks

Adrian Danks is Director of Higher Degree Research in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT University. He is also co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque and was an editor of Senses of Cinema from 2000 to 2014. He has published widely in a range of books and journals including: Senses of Cinema, Metro, Screening the Past, Studies in Documentary Film, Studies in Australasian Cinema, Australian Book Review, Screen Education, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Traditions in World Cinema, Melbourne in the 60s, 24 Frames: Australia and New Zealand, Contemporary Westerns, B is for Bad Cinema, Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave, Being Cultural, World Film Locations: Melbourne and Sydney, and Twin Peeks: Australian and New Zealand Feature Films. He is the editor of A Companion to Robert Altman (Wiley, 2015), co-editor of American-Australian Cinema: Transnational Connections (Palgrave, 2018) and is currently writing several books including monographs devoted to 3-D Cinema (Rutgers) and "international" feature-film production in Australia during the postwar era (Australian International Pictures, with Con Verevis, to be published by Edinburgh University Press)."View all posts by Adrian Danks →