Hossain Farazmand is a journalist who has heard wind of a potentially great story. A man has been pretending to be Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and has convinced a family that if they help him out they will be in his next film. Farazmand plans to make this story a life-changing event in his career, and heads to cover the man’s arrest and trial.
This is a very odd movie. It was nominated for me to watch by Joel Burman, shepherd of the LAMB, and it certainly is more interesting than his other recommendation, Andrei Rublev. The brief synopsis sounds like it would lead to a fairly standard narrative that just happens to be based on a real story, but this has been displayed in an entirely unique fashion. For starters, almost all the major characters in the story are played by their real life counterparts. Makhmalbaf shows up as himself, and the man posing as him, Hossain Sabzian, is himself too. The Ahankhah family, who are the people duped by Sabzian into thinking he is Makhmalbaf, are themselves too. Even Close-Up‘s director, Abbas Kiarostami, can be heard interviewing Sabzian from behind the camera during the courtroom scenes, and yet this is not a documentary. It’s more like a reconstruction, with an overlaid narrative including flashbacks. It messes with your mind at times, when you’re trying to work out precisely what you’re watching, and whether the conversation taking place is playing out exactly the same as it did the first time these people had it. It’s very well done, with these non-professional actors often making me believe that surely this is all happening for the first time as I’m watching it, and not a re-run of events gone by.
That being said, this unusual manner of depicting the narrative came to provide an unsatisfying film-viewing experience. It somehow removed most of the film’s tension and drive, replacing it with frustration at the lack of understanding as to exactly why Sabzian felt the need to go through with his ruse. It transpires that he never intended for the Ahankhah family to believe him to be a famous director, nor did he directly seek the money they provided him with, and I couldn’t quite comprehend the reasons he eventually half-gave after the endless cycles of being asked the same questions over and over again. Sabzian also wasn’t a very engrossing screen presence, and I found my mind wandering for the long stretches he is on screen, when in such an intriguing story I felt I should have been glued to what was going on.
I also felt that this style of storytelling required a great deal of padding to achieve the relatively slim 98 minutes. The arrest scene from the opening segment is repeated towards the end, but from a different viewpoint, and plays out exactly as expected without adding much new that hadn’t already been gleamed from what we had already been told, so felt largely redundant, and the very end utilises an audio trick to imply found footage-style film-making that was aggravating and frustrating to watch, and felt inconsistent with the rest of the picture.
Overall, a unique storytelling devise started out interestingly, but in the end prevented an engaging story from being told in a more enjoyable manner. If nothing else, however, I’ve never seen a film quite like this before.
Choose Life 6/10