Saturday, February 25, 2017

Reseeing Iran ’17: 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami

Somehow Abbas Kiarostami found a way to rise above the extreme manifestations of politics and ideology that have bedeviled Iran for decades. He never went into exile (voluntarily or otherwise), yet he openly collaborated with dissident filmmakers like Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rassoulof. He rarely directly addressed contentious issues, yet his focus on children characters is often considered a deliberate strategy to circumvent censorship. With his death, there is no equivalent filmmaker to step into his shoes. Kiarostami’s friend and photographic colleague Seyfolah Samadian splices together some of the fond moments he captured with the master in 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami (trailer here), which screens tomorrow as part of Reseeing Iran: The 21st Annual Iranian Film Festival in DC.

It is easy to see why Samadian and Kiarostami were friends and collaborators. As fellow photographers, they both shared an appreciation for visual composition. Unfortunately, from a cinematic perspective, Samadian was apparently particularly involved in Kiarostami’s long-take video installation Five Dedicated to Ozu, an ostensive tribute to the Japanese master, which is easily one of the most challenging films in the Kiarostami oeuvre. However, it makes it clear those paddlings of ducks and gaggles of geese did not happen by accident.

If nothing else, 76 Minutes will present a clear picture of Kiarostami’s painstakingly deliberate process of crafting film. Yet, there is nothing neurotic or obsessive about it. Instead, he rather seems to enjoy it. As befits its purpose as a tribute film, Samadian includes many scenes of Kiarostami reciting poetry and laughing with friends. Both subject and toastmaster-documentarian also look like they get a kick out of the meta scenes, as when Samadian films Kiarostami “co-directing” a scene Massoud Kimiai, with Panahi serving as their handheld cinematographer.

There are some interesting insights tucked away in 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds (an accurate reflection of the films running time that also references Kiarostami’s age at the time of his death: 76 years and 15 days), but it is definitely a small, quiet film. Still, the man who helmed minimalist fare such as Five and Shirin would probably approve.

Samadian’s doc has often been paired-up with Kiarostami’s final short film on the festival circuit and such is the case again this weekend. Kiarostami’s Take Me Home is a Red Balloon-esque film that follows a rolling soccer-football through the infinite, Escher-like steps of a picturesque Southern Italian coastal village. The black-and-white cinematography is spectacular and Peter Soleimanipour’s melodic score is snappy and sophisticated, but the computer-enhanced bouncing ball is often distractingly fake looking. Still, it is another film that illustrates how Kiarostami’s photographic sensibilities influenced his films. 

Regardless, Certified Copy remains one of his most wry and rapturously best films. 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami is basically recommended for the auteur’s dedicated admirers when it screens tomorrow (2/26) at the National Gallery of Art, but Certified Copy is recommended for everyone when it screens today (2/25) and Monday (2/27) at the AFI Silver Theatre, as part of Reseeing Iran.