Films spawn other films: That law of (cinema) nature drives the fascinating work of Mania Akbari, who has steadily become Iran’s most interesting and exploratory woman director at a time when her country’s regime is obsessed with counter-reform — particularly against women — and when the national cinema in general isn’t in much better shape. A former actress, Akbari learned from the best: Abbas Kiarostami, who cast Akbari as the mother-driver protagonist of his last narrative feature, 10. Unabashedly influenced by Kiarostami — not by his style, per se, but by his willingness to constantly reinvent himself — Akbari made her directing debut with the fascinating 2004 feature 20 Fingers, which cast an extremely modern and cubistic look on male-female relationships, followed by her highly experimental, post-Warhol 2005 short, Six Video Arts (previously screened at REDCAT). Akbari takes numbers as her organizing principle, but in her new and most provocative work, 10 + 4, her own life takes precedent. Diagnosed with breast cancer after making Six Video Arts, she was spurred by Kiarostami to take the basic structure of 10 (ten scenes involving the driver and a revolving set of passengers), liberally play with it, and use it to examine her own experience living with and surviving cancer. The first scene of 10 + 4 actually begins with the opening of Kiarostami’s film, in which Akbari argues with her stubborn son. Dissolve to the present, and the son is now a growing teen who’s calmed down a bit. With each successive scene, Akbari shifts ever so gradually away from the template of 10 and toward a chain of scenes that ask if life is worth fighting the disease, and if the disease is ever really gone for good. 10 + 4 offers no balm for those who are going through the cancer gauntlet as either victim or loved one; it does something better, which is to trigger questions about how one endures disease, and how one manages the delicate art of human relations. (REDCAT; Mon., May 5, 8 p.m. www.redcat.org)
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