Binoche and Kiarostami

Great interview from Cannes with Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami about his latest film, Certified Copy, starring, among others, Juliette Binoche.

I loved this part:

My next film is going to be a road movie too. In my film €Ten on 10 I explain why I have these driving scenes. I feel good in a car. And the car is one of the locations where you feel the least the presence of a camera. Spielberg’€™s Duel is one of the most memorable films for me — it may remind of Hitchcock but I like it even more than Hitchcock’s films. If you locked me in a car with a camera, and maybe an actor too, I wouldn’t protest. I would promise not to come out of the car. So who knows — if I go back to Iran and get into trouble that’s what I can suggest to them: Don’t put me in a cell, put me in a car.

Kiarostami is still based in Iran, although he knows his films never stand a chance on passing the censors there. He has been a huge vocal supporter of Jafar Panahi, calling for Iran to release him.

Update on that front: Panahi is still on hunger strike, but apparently he was allowed to see his wife on Thursday, and there is going to be a bail hearing today. Things are actually looking up. I cannot imagine that the international attention his imprisonment has received is not a factor. Still a frightening situation, but there are glimmers of hope right now for Mr. Panahi – at least getting released on bail. More information here.

Another update: Not too much new information here, except for the opening paragraphs:

Tehran’s prosecutor general has asked the Islamic revolutionary court to reconsider the continued detention of the celebrated Iranian film-maker, Jafar Panahi, raising hopes that he may quickly be freed.

A high-profile international campaign calling for Panahi’s release has drawn the support of leading figures in the arts and politics. According to some reports a bail hearing could take place as early as this weekend and could free Panahi until his trial.

We’re all watching.

And thank you, Bruce, for reminding me of another imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who was imprisoned last December, and was sentenced in April to over 3 years of prison and 50 lashes, for writing critical letters to the new government. Because the new government is so unbelievably sensitive that they can’t bear critiques. Oh boo-hoo mullahs. Nourizad was beaten so badly that his eyes were injured, perhaps permanently. He is also on hunger strike, with others, including Panahi.

Panahi is the symbol. The international star.

The one whose chair was left empty for him at Cannes.

But there are others. Many many others. Let us hold out hope for them as well.

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10 Responses to Binoche and Kiarostami

  1. Kelly says:

    Thanks for your posts. I would not have kept up in such a timely fashion without your updates. I was so relieved to see he was getting a hearing.

  2. Bruce Reid says:

    Manny Farber had a fascinating insight that Kiarostami effortlessly pulls off the “most common movie shot, and it’s the one thing they never get right”: looking out from inside a car. “The scale is very exciting. When you’re in car scenes in movies, the things that are passing are much smaller than he gets, the aspect of them. He gets the laborers walking past, much closer and larger.”

    After walking out of Taste of Cherry, a friend of mine from Zimbabwe and I (who grew up in Nevada) couldn’t stop praising how precisely he’d captured the sound of wheels crackling on desert sand.

    I only latch on to these examples because the plight of Panahi is so sickening that I doubt my ability to comment on it with any degree of civility. I’m not hopeful that the two men will soon be free to drive through Iran, their only boundaries the track of the road, but the thought of it has brightened me some. Thanks for suggesting it. (And for the updates, to second Kelly.)

  3. Bruce Reid says:

    And I forgot to mention–Panahi is surely one of the great filmmakers in the world, but that should be irrelevant to the outrage over his treatment. Mohammad Nourizad is tragically sharing the latter; he should be remembered as well.

  4. red says:

    Bruce – Yes, Nourizad as well – and like I said over on Jim Emerson’s site: I don’t want to forget the countless Iranians who have been persecuted and even executed since last year’s divisive elections (not to mention for the last 20, 30-some years under this theocratic regime)- the ones who are NOT world-famous and do not have celebrities making speeches calling for their release from Cannes. Panahi is symbolic. I love his work. He’s one of my favorites. But I can’t help but think of those without his profile … the “anonymous” ones.

    The whole thing is enraging, and I, too, can barely speak of it with any civility whatsoever.

    I just saw the film No One Knows About Persian Cats (my review somewhere below on my main page) – and it’s about musicians in Iran, trying to do their thing, knowing they will be arrested. For playing music. I saw it a couple of days ago and thought about Panahi the entire time. Not to mention Ghobadi, the director, and all the others – who make films that are shunned in their own countries, but embraced worldwide. It’s hard to imagine or comprehend. I feel it is SO important to support these filmmakers. I write about them as much as I can.

  5. red says:

    Oh, and eff “support” for support’s sake – let me clarify. I don’t mean to come off too earnest – I’m just upset about Panahi right now, and so it makes me want to watch only Iranian films, and write about only Iranian films. I think we should support these filmmakers not just because they are being oppressed – but because they make damn fine films, and their film industry is one of the most vital in the world. These films should be seen.

    Bruce: I had mixed feelings about Taste of Cherry, especially the ending – where you suddenly see Kiarostami filming the car leaving the construction site, a sort of framing-device showing that “the whole thing has just been a movie”. I LOVED the look of the film, and like you mentioned – the crunch of the gravel, and the sandy-colored palate of the whole film – not to mention the themes, which, again, are so important to Iranian films which seem to be subversive just by existing. Suicide, and burial. Taboo stuff.

    One of my theories is that the man was gay (he had no homelife – no wife, no children – a man his age?) and the shame of that was so great he had to commit suicide. That was one idea. There was also the moment in the car with one of the guys he picks up where the guy seems to think he is a pervert of some kind – I can’t believe that that wasn’t a deliberate seed that Kiarostami was planting – but again, I’m not sure.

    And I was just so turned off by the ending, but it seems like I am the only one who felt that way.

    What are your thoughts on that?

    I am quite willing to believe that I might be missing something. I have seen it multiple times. I love Kiarostami, and I think his status as one of the most important filmmakers of the last 25 years is indisputable – I can’t wait to see Certified Copy – but Taste of Cherry …

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on it. I wrote about it on my site a couple years ago, but it received no comments – I imagine because nobody else reading my blog had seen it.

    Don’t mean to put you on the spot…. but it would be interesting to hear your perspective.

  6. red says:

    (Oh, and very interesting to look at Taste of Cherry through the lens of that interview in the Times, and what he had to say about his admiration for Duel … and how he would never want to leave the car … Funny – I didn’t make that connection with Taste of Cherry at all. My bad. Making that movie must have been heaven for him, a little nod to Spielberg and Hitchcock – and he got to ride around in a car for the entirety of the shoot … Love it. It seems much more personal to me now – in light of that information.)

  7. red says:

    Guys, there’s hope that he may be freed this weekend. I think the pressure might be getting to them. I put an update to this post. Who knows what will happen, but I’m keeping fingers crossed.

  8. Bruce Reid says:

    First, I’ll take any twig of hope regarding Panahi, so I’m glad to hear the update.

    Re: Taste of Cherry. Funny–there was a third friend at the screening I mentioned earlier, and that was his first reaction too, that the protagonist was gay and the film built its central action around (Kiarostami’s own? I’ve no idea) experiences of cruising. Charles and I didn’t quite see it, but a second viewing swayed me to that view.

    I think the end of Taste of Cherry breaks with what Kiarostami had been up to till then even while distilling it to its pungent essence. The blur of fact and fiction is far more delicate in Close-up and the final two Koker films, not seeking a rupture between the two modes but instead using each to enlarge the other, creating a landscape whose serene beauty is ultimately bottomless and uncertain. Cherry leaps up to the exposure of fiction rather than following its protagonist down into the ground; I can see why Kiarostami made the decision, but agree with you that it doesn’t feel of a piece with what’s come before. It’s just a disorienting gut-punch (possibly motivated by the desire to speak as plainly as possible at the end of a film about things that can’t be said?), whereas Kiarostami’s other film spin your head with a light touch that pierces your heart as well.

  9. red says:

    Bruce – it’s funny, I was just talking with a friend about Close-Up – a really great film, I think. For me, that “is this real or not?” question worked with Close-uP and did not with Taste of Cherry – but I do like your comment about trying to speak plainly in a film “about things that can’t be said”.

    When you are dealing with such things as censorship and possible persecution – when you are taking on taboo subjects such as suicide (a taboo in most cultures, I might add – but at least it can be talked about and examined in other cultures) – perhaps a lighter tough, as in: “Hey, hey, we’re just makin’ a movie here” – is appropriate. And also more honest. Because if you can’t “go there”, if you are not “allowed” to portray the truth, meaning portray an event as truthfully as you would like to (a man committing suicide) – then what the hell, let’s just pull all the way back, and say, “THIS IS A MOVIE” to really make the point.

    I hadn’t really looked at it that way, but it’s something I’ll ponder when I watch the film again, as I am sure I will.

  10. red says:

    I can’t find the link now, dammit, but apparently the Iranian government has released a statement saying, basically, “Relax, we’re going to release Panahi” – and blaming the West for its “propaganda” in regards to Panahi’s situation. Yup. It’s the WEST’S fault. The WEST imprisoned him for no reason. The WEST tortured him under interrogation. The WEST revoked his passport and denied him the ability to work or travel. The WEST forced him to go on hunger strike.

    Iranians (the populace anyway) are no dummies. They know the real culprits here – and I have to believe, in spite of everything, that the regime cannot last. Last year was a close call for them. The crack-downs were widespread. But in such a global world, with internet, Facebook, Twitter – you cannot keep such things PRIVATE any longer. In the 70s, 80s, Panahi would have just “disappeared” and it might have been months before anyone picked up on it. Now, that is no longer possible.

    The regime knows this. There’s a reason why they block people’s Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, and all that.

    To keep saying, “This is all the WEST’S fault” no longer “works” with the population, which is radicalized and angry. But the regime, tonedeaf and afraid, continue to parrot that old refrain. It’s infuriating. But also – dare I say – a hopeful sign as well.

    I’ve been paying attention to Iran for a long time. I guess since the 1979 revolution, when suddenly my small university town was flooded with Iranians, educated and angry. The 1979 hostage situation, along with the hunger strikes in Belfast in 1981 – were really the first “news” items I paid attention to as a child.

    I’ve received emails from Iranian film fans, who were able to hack through whatever firewalls their universities or internet cafes had put up against the Internet – One kid, a film student in Tehran, said that my site was blocked – because of all of the reviews I do of Iranian film – and he – a nerd techie of the highest order – was able to get around the block to read my reviews. I get emails from kids in Iran all the time, shouting their love for Panahi, or Hedye Tehrani (one of my favorite actresses) – They have a right to be so proud of their country’s films – and the fact that the films are banned and never screened in Iran is MEANINGLESS when you have such things as bootleg DVDs, and the Internet.

    Panahi’s “Offisde” was never screened in Iran – and yet EVERYONE in the country saw it. It was his biggest hit. A year after the film came out worldwide, but no one (apparently) had been able to go see it in Iran – groups of protesting women showed up at soccer stadiums across the nation on the same day, wearing white head scarves and white chadors, holding up signs saying WE DON’T WANT TO BE OFFSIDE.

    Incredible. The regime tried to stop the population from seeing the film. But it had reached such a critical mass that protests referenced it specifically.

    The mullahs are helpless against such ingenuity as that. And they KNOW it.

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