I feel lately I've fallen off in watching foreign films, which has always been a resolve of mine though I don't always keep to it. I've had several bumped up my netflix queue so hopefully I can get back into it this summer. Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up seemed like a good place to start, since I've heard it praised quite often, and have always been intrigued by the premise. Using careful re-enactments that feature the actual people involved as well as courtroom footage with some scripted speeches, the film examines the actions of Hossain Sobzian, a mild-mannered film buff who impersonates noted Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makmahlbaf. For about a week he ingratiates himself with a well-off family, saying he wants to make a film with them. His deception is revealed after a few days and he is put on trial for fraud, at which point director Abbas Kiarostami hears the story and decides to film the proceedings. He also recreates the events leading up to the trial, from various perspectives.
Innovative in its structure and storytelling, Close-Up is a strange and compelling film that rides the line between documentary and drama in unexpected ways. What sounds like a weird, somewhat sensational premise turns into an introspective study of obsession and creative desire. As far as I can tell, Sobzian is not some malicious con artist, but rather a lonely, dissatisfied man who stumbles upon a way to live within another person's greatness. His Makmahlbaf persona allows him the confidence and social fluidity that he seems to lack in his own life, and while his actions are misleading and suspicious, it's not hard to see why he might maintain this charade for the Ahankhah family, whose friendliness and cinematic enthusiasm immediately bond him to them. It's a no-win situation, basically, and I could understand the reactions of all sides, with everyone seeking some sort of personal fulfillment through an association with fame but no one attaining it.
Though the story and character investigation are fascinating on their own, it is Kiarostami's interesting narrative techniques that elevate the film to something truly special. Using the actual people involved in these events to act out their own story leads to a kind of distanced documentary feel, with the performers knowingly creating a copy of the real thing. The long shots and real-time scenes that cover different elements in Sobzian's story are pieced together non-linearly, cutting back and forth from staged memories to courtroom footage that is obviously affected by the presence of Kiarostami's cameras. It is never entirely clear if Sobzian is simply putting on an act for the cameras, and indeed I think it'd be naive to assume he wasn't to some extent, but his deep respect for film as a medium and his regret that the Ahankhah family felt wrongs seem genuine. The long-form coda brings some satisfaction to all parties, a sort of sigh of relief after building tension between parties both seen and unseen. It's just a really beautiful, memorable film, a reminder that there are so many ways one can tell a story.
Pair This Movie With: I'm honestly not sure what films are similar to this, but I can say that now I'd like to see any of Makmahlbaf's films, especially The Cyclist, which is referenced a few times.