Monthly Archives: August 2016

  • Close-Up Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1990)

    Close-Up Abbas
    Kiarostami (Iran 1990) Hossain

    ICA Cinema London 6 Aug 2016; ticket

    Abbas Kiarostami 1940-2016 – let there be life.

    The two shots of a tin can rolling down a street in Kiarostami’s Close-Up, epitomise something essential in the nature of his film. In the first shot the journalist Farazmand accidently kicks a can sending it bouncing down the street. It might seem that this is an arbitrary event but Kiarostami’s camera stays with the can as it clatters down the street before finally coming to rest. Later in the same sequence Farazmand again kicks the same can, this time deliberately, and it clatters further down the road, ending up nestled against the kerb. The film immediately cuts to a shot of newspapers rolling off the press with the story of Sabzian’s impersonation of the director Makhmalbaf.

    These ‘tin can’ shots reminded me of Sam Mendes film ‘American Beauty’ where we see a shot of a crumpled plastic bag blowing about at the end of an ally. It is blown about unable to escape its confines, watched by Lester the movie’s protagonist. Like Kiarostami’s ‘tin can’ shots it’s of long duration, signifying that the director attended to the shot.

    Mendes’ shot struck me as a piece of pretentious symbolism, using this heavy handed visual metaphore to convey Lester’s state of mind. It seemed a contrived psychic moment, an otiose signifier adding nothing to the film. Without a visible agent, the shot looked artificial, simulated either in production with a wind machine or in post-production.

    Kiarostami’s ‘can shots’ have a quite different quality. An agent kicks out and a tin can rolls noisily down the incline of a street. The ‘can shots’ has nothing to do with narrative or state of mind, they simply fit the structure of a film which is non narrative non linear and incorporates chance and inconsequentiality as part of life.

    Close-Up is a mixture of documentary, cinema verite, dramatic reconstruction built on a premise in which the aspiration and practice of film making are a fundamental idea.

    Into this subject with its multiple laminations built on the complexity of its human relations and the way people perceive one another, accident and material irrelevance are incorporated into the material, Kiarostami observes that these elements of life often intrude into the most fateful moments of existence. Kiarostami’s tin cans don’t mean anything beyond themselves, like his film and its players, the cans simply run their natural course. The viewer gets the idea: what a long way tin cans roll when kicked, almost forever; what a huge clattering sound they make, almost deafening. The tin cans exist as an object of the camera’s lens for their own sake: no state of mind, no metaphor. Just cans. Like the protagonist Sabzian, he is just Sabzian.

    Close-Up, at one level, is a satire on the egotistical banality of film making that puts the ‘Director’ at the centre of the process. Sabzian’s impersonation of a director stems from his perception of the power relations he understands as being at the core of movie production. The Director can make demands: on actors, sets, scripts. Like little dictators they have license to make things happen according to whim or will. Sabzian’s position in society as an unemployed printer, a powerless non-entity, lends huge allure to the idea of being a film director. One who calls the shots.

    The difference between Sabzian and Western wannabees is that the latter are thinking ‘career’. Sabzian in some confused manner, simply wants to tell of his suffering. His phantom film making, like Bergman’s, is driven by an internal imperative.

    But at another level Close- Up is an anti satirical statement about about a type of film directing in which ego takes a step back. A film making based on a certain kind of perception about what film is.

    Kiarostami does not primarily use control and manipulation as the dynamic of his film making. The basis of his film making is to bring the idea to life. As a film maker he works by releasing ideas into situations and seeing to where they lead. Understanding where the idea takes the material is for Kiarostami more important than any scripted destination. And his understanding and choice of situation as the crucible for an idea is critical to his work. For Kairostami’s case the situations often arise out of the power tensions endemic in the social matrix.

    Close-Up like most of his films is set in Iran. The situation Kiarostami develops leads directly into cross sectional view of Iranian society. In the Law Court scenes, the family scenes, at the police station, we understand that Sabzian’s actions don’t take place in a vacuum: they occur within a complex interweaving of social relations: his mother, his wife, his children, his unemployment, his movie going. We see how the private, the personal, and the social interpenetrate. We see that these relations comprise a defining framework in relation to action that is separate from the subjective, but has its own weight. In contrast, American and increasingly Europeans make films which are increasingly concerned only with subjectivities. Individuals act as if in vacuo, as psychic agents of their own desires. Kiarostami’s films are set firmly in the realm of the social.

    In the final scene Sabzian is released from prison and at the gate he is met by Makhmalbaf. The film’s pay off was to be the recording of the conversation between the two. But for some reason the radio mics fail. Though we see the two men meet, we hear nothing of their conversation, only static and bumps from the sound system. Accidents mistakes and failure are part of life, and Kiarostami films life. So he lets the shot with its no sound ride. A joke on him and on all who are would-be controllers. In an important sense it doesn’t matter. What we see is enough, the idea of the meeting is enough to carry the shot through: the real faker and the would-be faker have met and exchanged…whatever…we don’t need to know more. Adrin Neatrour

  • The Neon Demon Nicholas Winding Refn (2016 Fr, Dk, USA)

    The Neon Demon Nicholas Winding Refn (2016 Fr, Dk, USA) Elle Fanning, Christina
    Hendricks, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves

    Tyneside Cinema 25 July 2016; ticket: £9.15

    goodbye ‘Nevernever Land’ hello ‘Whatever Land’

    Nicolas Refn’s the Neon Demon is a conceit of a very contemporary nature: form without content. Completely dedicated to the stylised image it could almost be an advert for some sort of Apple product. In one sequence model Jesse is positioned in front of a huge dazzling saturated white backdrop which almost seems to envelop her with its cold sensuality. As she poses in this setting, she is painted gold by the fashion photographer, I expected a gold Apple iPhone to somehow appear and transfix itself into the scene. The setting was perfect opportunity for product placement.

    Neon Demon is very much the product of the Apple generation, a parallel cinematic form of the mediated reality that permeates and defines the iPhone life style in which life is not experienced directly but only indirectly through a screen which accesses image and information. Screen takes the place of life. Gazing becomes living.

    The cool.

    Refn wants to make a cool film. He only requires of his audience that they watch the screen with detached interest as he invents and shows a succession of locational architectural backdrops accessed by tracking shots down narrow runs walkways and corridors. He then fills the spaces with content. It doesn’t matter what the content is. The only point of the content is as a product to attract the gaze. Colour, eye catching interiors, blond women from the parallel universe, violence, sex, blood, cannibalism etc. The more transgressive the image the less it affects. In fact there is an inverse relationship between the extremity of Refn’s provocations and the intensity of audience reaction. Penetrative necrophilia, eyeball eating become “plaisirs des yeaux”, bagatelles. The important thing about the content is that it should be and is vacuous, empty. The scenario develops situations, events, actions in which the audience cannot invest with meaning. ‘Never never’ land becomes ‘Whateverland’.

    Into this refined space, characterised often simply by colour and architectural form, Refn promotes Jesse, who is in many ways rather like an Apple product. Jesse is blond shimmering white and perfectly designed by nature. She does not attract empathy as she is a decontextualised product. She tells that her parents are ‘gone’ but otherwise she is carefuly screened to remove the personal. She is an object to be gazed at. Like the objects in the Apple universe, admired as image. Like a product, Jesse has little to say about or for herself. She lets other people do the talking. It is for others to fill her out with their projections.

    For the most part Jesse is the subject of other people’s observations and desires. Jesse has such beautiful skin hair nose. She is just so perfect. And desired. They want to suck her. (except her boyfriend) As heterosexual sex, except abusive rape (suggested but not realised in a dream sequence), wouldn’t fit with the extreme product design, Refn and his writers, have gone for a baroque rendering of that old movie stand-by: Lesbian Cannibals from Outer Space. And the final sequence of the film plays out with a series of grotesque tableaux, like some kind of 18th century masque, of the hunting killing and eating of Jesse by a group of deranged other worldly blond coat hangers.

    The Neon Demon, is not a horror film or anything like that. Refn has made film that is produced for the state of mind that is characteristic of certain patterns of contemporary consumption. A state of mind that finds significance in objects and products, and by engaging in life through the isolating filter of a screen that is detached but desirous of visual excitement through image. As Marshall McLuhan observed: the Medium is the Message. And how ‘cool’ is that? Adrin Neatrour