Chosen by "Les Cahiers du cinéma" (France) as one of the 10 best pictures of 1991 (#05). See more »
When Sabzian and Makhmalbaf meet, there is a bundle in Sabzian's hand. He gets on the motorbike with the bundle in his hand. Later on, during their ride on the motorbike, the bundle is not there any more. See more »
Method acting is taken to the extreme in the case of this film's main character, Sabzian, a real-life person who impersonated a real-life filmmaker (Mohsen Makhmalbaf) he deeply admired, and who is taken to court by a family he has deceived -- and has his trial filmed by Abbas Kiarostami. Watching the film, I was aware that these events really did occur, and that the actors playing these characters were the real people involved (the opening credits clue us in, when they say, "appearing as themselves"), but I did not catch on that the courtroom scenes were real footage -- to be honest, I'm still not quite sure. (That IMDb lists the judge in the credits as "judge" and not as "himself," makes me suspect that this is indeed all a reenactment.) But whether or not the entire film is a reenactment or only the time-shifting parts with Sabzian and the family at their home are reenacted, the moment where Makhmalbaf appears onscreen is a transcendent one, as true in spirit as "real life" (which it may indeed be).
Kiarostami is a true artist, the ideal described by Sabzian in the film, one who makes his films to depict the suffering of people. He's one of the few with the power to seem wholly pure -- he makes me feel, at least in the moment, that film's real artists are the ones who aren't mere stylists. They're the ones interested in our hopes, our guilts, our ambitions, our fears. The ones interested in people. And here, Sabzian is trying to do something for other people; he's symbol of their love for the arts, by himself masquerading as a great artist. He's living vicariously through the artist he admires, and in doing so -- however morally ambiguously -- accentuating the most candid aspects of himself. By simply assuming another name, he can have people treat his views with respect, and in this way the film is a scathing attack on celebrity status and the priority with which we give them. However, Kiarostami doesn't let us be satisfied with Sabzian's candor; we're never sure where we stand with him, and the possibility is that his entire court appearance is another grand performance. (With the credits rolling over a frozen image of Sabzian's face, and his general persona of a troubled but deeply good-hearted person, I was reminded of an adult Antoine Doinel.)
Kiarostami and Sabzian admit that we're all actors in one way or another, from a director to you and me: "We are the slaves of a mask hiding our true face. If we free ourselves from this, the beauty of truth will be ours." This film and "Taste of Cherry" have got to me on such an intimate and personal level, and seem so honest and truthful -- sometimes in a seemingly banal way -- that I don't know how I can recommend them to others. While I think this is a masterpiece, if you expect to be blown away you'll be disappointed. But with artists this open, if you're willing to open yourself up, too, hopefully it can mean as much to you as it does to me. 10/10
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