By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
It tells you something about the patriarchal nature of Iranian life that, while Kiarostami has previously made a movie set almost entirely in a car (The Taste of Cherry), he’s never before made one about a woman. But having decided to venture into the female world, as Jafar Panahi earlier did so passionately in The Circle, he approaches it with his customary delicacy. Kiarostami is a prodigy of deceptive simplicity (handy when dealing with dinky budgets and draconian censors), and Ten conjures Mania’s life not with melodramatics but with details — gestures, reflections, eloquent absences. We see her search for freedom in her avid curiosity about the prostitute’s life, in her claim that her jilted friend is “weak” for sobbing over her lost love and in her constant fussing with her chador, the physical symbol of her spiritual confinement. Mania may have escaped her husband, but she hasn’t escaped the need to justify what she’s done — she keeps wanting to win her shrieking son’s approval.
While a couple of Mania’s encounters with women feel a bit perfunctory in their sociological neatness (“We’ve done the praying granny, now cue the hooker!”), the scenes with her son cut close to the bone. Ten opens with an amazing eight-minute shot of Amin as he barks out street directions, rebukes her maternal failures, and covers his ears when she tries to speak. Amin’s every new appearance makes it easier to see why Mania had to split. Kiarostami likes to work by indirection, and, though we never meet her ex-husband, we come to know him vividly as a spoiled man whose pleasures are modern (he drives an SUV and watches porn via satellite) but whose marital expectations are medieval. He’s an overgrown version of Amin, who’s constantly yelling, “Take me to Grandma” — in other words, to an old-fashioned woman who’ll tend to his every need.
Although Ten is, like Japón, one of the year’s finest movies, it’s not quite the masterpiece that some of Kiarostami’s cultists want it to be. Rather, it feels like the work of a slugger content to hit a ground-rule double rather than risk (as Reygadas does) striking out by swinging for the fences. Of course, such consistent achievement is not to be sneezed at, and Kiarostami’s artistry is so consummate — precise, humane, intelligent — that I feel slightly ungenerous saying that the movie left me craving more visual interest, more dramatic buildup. There’s only so much life you can capture from a dashboard-cam, and bit by bit I found myself becoming tantalized by the vision of Tehran outside the car’s windows — curious pedestrians staring into the front seat, mysterious buildings and beckoning shop windows, the darkened streets where the prostitute plies her nightly trade. I kept wishing Kiarostami would let us out of the car, which, no doubt by design, began to feel as claustrophobic as Mania’s scarf.
JAPÓN| Written, directed and produced by CARLOS REYGADAS | Released by Vitagraph Inc. | At the Nuart
TEN| Written and directed by ABBAS KIAROSTAMI Produced by MARIN KARMITZ and KIAROSTAMI | Released by Zeitgeist Films | At Laemmle’s Music Hall
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