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Mohamad Ali Keshavarz,
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Roushan Karam Elmi
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Ten, the latest film by Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, focuses on ten conversations between a female driver in Tehran and the passengers in her car. Her exchanges with her young son, a jilted bride, a prostitute, a women on her way to prayer and others, shed light on the lives and emotions of these women whose voices are seldom heard. Written by
The front-page review of this film simply doesn't do this marvelous film justice. Renowned Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami takes an innovative approach at giving us a very deep glimpse not only into the life of mother and child, but also into Iran, its society and the situation of women transitioning to a more assertive role in society (however, I don't think one should be confused that the issues women face in Iran are not relevant to women elsewhere in the world, including the West).
The film has two fixed camera angles, one giving us a view of the driver-side and the other a view of the passenger side of an automobile. The driver is a mother who has left her husband and now resides with her new lover (she is the common thread in all ten "episodes"). Each sequence places a different person in the passenger seat, with particular emphasis on her son (who rides in four of the 10 scenes, if I'm not mistaken).
It is this mother-son relationship that is at the crux of the film, and for good reason. The performances of these two characters was nothing short of amazing. The boy in particular, with every eye-twitch, frown, smile, and outburst was able to convey a frighteningly realistic portrayal of a boy who is all at once obstinate, angry, disrespectful, and immature, yet still sweet and somewhat an innocent victim of the situation. He is unforgiving to his mother for walking out on him and "breaking up the family" and is reluctant to accept any explanation his mother offers. They trade barbs and though the love is there, you can see the seeds already planted in the young adolescent of a society that subordinates women to their male partners. Here, it is so profound that even a pre-teen lectures his mother on right and wrong.
The mother bounces back and forth between defending herself to accepting blame, showing the cracks of guilt that clearly lie beneath her composed and beautiful surface. And it's a beauty that her son can't recognize: she's a sexy passionate woman with needs of not just a mother but also as a lover and a liver; but like all children he can only see her as an adult and a mother.
The other key character involves a friend who desperately seeks a life partner, but finds herself unsuccessful at every turn. Most recently, a man she has been seeing tells her that he cannot marry her because he does not love her. She coyly reveals from under her veil that in her grief she has shaved her head completely. This act is astonishing not because it is defiant but because it is terribly charming. She can't offer an explanation as to why she has done it, but no explanation is necessary. Who hasn't at some time when an ego has been made fragile by rejection, sought to change hair, clothing, face, self? And it is with this scene, with veil pulled back, that the woman's beauty is uncovered, not because we see her hair or her bald head, but because of the insight the shaving act gives to her character, and her innocent embarrassment brings a smile to her tear-stained face that lights up the screen.
I give the film a 9 and not a 10 because of one sequence involving a conversation with a prostitute in the passenger seat. Presumably the driver has given a ride to hitch-hiker, leading to an intelligent conversation/debate about the world's oldest profession. But this scene seemed a little out-of-place, contrived, and added little to the more general theme of the rest of the film. This one slip-up notwithstanding, "Ten" is a creative and wonderful experience for film lovers who seek something out of the ordinary. And it has a final scene which punctuates the film perfectly.
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