Posts Tagged ‘Abbas Kiarostami’

Each decade since 1952 Sight & Sound, the official magazine of the BFI, have run a poll to find the Greatest Films of All Time. This year marks a dramatic change after decades of consensus; Vertigo has taken the top spot from Citizen Kane. Inspired by the poll we at Reflections have assembled our own 10 Greatest Films of All Time. Enjoy our greatest & message us with your own:

1. BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (DIR. R.W FASSBINDER, WEST GERMANY, 1980)

Berlin Alexanderplatz is the artistic and technical pinnacle of R.W Fassbinder’s career and a monumental piece of cinema. The film tells of ex-con Franz Biberkopf (played beautifully by Günter Lamprecht), struggling to go straight in pre-Nazi Germany. Running at an epic 15 and a half hours, the film never loses focus, vigorously translating Alfred Döblin’s source novel thanks to Fassbinder’s lifelong obsession with the material. Berlin Alexanderplatz showcases Fassbinder’s masterful directing skill, using complex camera movements, long takes and intensely demanding performances; this owes to his work in melodrama and crime thrillers. The film is particularly extraordinary for its intellectual use of contemporary music, which acts as a sinister critique of the German society of the day.

2. M (DIR. FRITZ LANG, GERMANY, 1931)

While Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz was about the Weimar Republic, Fritz Lang’s was made during the period. The film tells the story of a manhunt for child killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre). Lang made the film later than his remarkable sci-fi Metropolis, but prior to his move to Hollywood. The film develops the seminal German Expressionist style, moving it from the crude stylings of Murnau’s Nosferatu, towards film noir like The Third Man and offerings as unique as Night of the Hunter. Lang’s direction is brilliantly haunting, utilising wide shots, extreme angles, baroque mise-en-scène and terrifyingly gloomy lighting. Its influence resonates throughout cinema history; the films of Christopher Nolan and David Fincher would certainly not be the same without it.

3. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (DIR. DZIGA VERTOV, SOVIET UNION, 1929)

While early German cinema lead the way in terms of film lighting and miss-en-scène, Russian cinema of the Soviet era pushed the possibilities of editing. Dziga Vertov’s Soviet propaganda piece Man With A Movie Camera is perhaps the greatest feat of editing in cinema history, developing montage far beyond the Kuleshov effect. While the revolutionary Soviet films of Sergei Eisenstein (StrikeBattleship Potemkin) were undeniably powerful, Man With A Movie Camera achieves timelessness because it is not confined by the subject matter of Bolshevik revolution; it is a celebration of life, work and ultimately cinema itself.

4. AGUIRRE: WRATH OF GOD (DIR. WERNER HERZOG, WEST GERMANY, 1972)

Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God deserves status as one of, if not the most ambitious low budget film ever made. Shooting on the Amazon River with Klaus Kinski for only $370,000 US dollars, Herzog created a film that plays more like a hallucination than a story. Aguirre tells the story of Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre (Kinski) as he leads an army of soldiers in search of El Dorado, the mythic city of gold. Herzog’s ability to capture the power of nature is on display here, as is his ability to harness the treacherous genius of Klaus Kinski. Aguirre may not be Herzog’s most polished film, but it captures his singular vision and power of will at its most intense; it truly is a display of cinematic greatness.

5. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1973)

Both a spiritual journey and a journey into the heart of cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is one of the most mind blowing experiences ever committed to film. The film revolves roughly around a petit thief, who bares a startling resemblance to Jesus, who embarks on a quest for gold. The thief’s quest ultimately and unexpectedly leads the film’s audience to enlightenment; it must be seen to be believed. The Holy Mountain is a feast of symbolism, which makes for a film as baffling as it is beautiful. Disciples of Jodorowksy will find the film the most rewarding, but this is ‘cinema for initiates’ and cinephiles would do well to acquaint themselves with Jodorowsky’s world.

6. REAR WINDOW (DIR. ALFRED HITCHCOCK, USA, 1958)

Like The Holy Mountain Hitchcock’s Rear Window is also a film about cinema. Where Jodorowsky’s film is a journey to enlightenment, Hitchcock’s is an exploration of obsessive voyeurism. Telling the story of an injured photojournalist, who suspects a murder in a in the flat opposite his, Rear Window displays Hitch at the height of his directing powers. The master of suspense amps up the drama for nearly two hours using point of view shots, long lenses and tracking shots to increase tension, all while James Stewart is confined to a wheelchair. Rear Window is not as flamboyant as Vertigo or as shocking as Psycho, but it captures Hitchcock’s profound urge to observe at its most essentially entertaining.

7. TASTE OF CHERRY (DIR. ABBAS KIAROSTAMI, IRAN, 1997)

Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema is that of a true humanist. Telling the story of Mr Badii, a suicidal man looking for a way to die, Taste of Cherry plays out like a list of reasons to live. The film relies on Kiarostami’s key motif of driving and the director frames his protagonist’s journey with optimistic simplicity; flocks of birds, winding roads and the sunset outside of Tehran are captured with long takes, on long lenses. The film was dogged by technical trouble after the footage from the final scenes was lost, but Kiarostami inserted digital video that he had filmed while shooting the final scenes. The end plays out like a coda celebrating the vitality of life found in filmmaking, while pioneering Kiarostami’s future explorations with digital technology.

8. COME AND SEE (DIR. ELEM KLIMOV, SOVIET UNION, 1985)

Elem Klimov’s Come and See is the greatest anti-war film ever created. A statement of sheer horror, this film has a hallucinatory quality akin to Aguirre: Wrath of God. The film tells of Flyora a young boy who joins the Soviet Army to fight the Nazis in WW2 and in the process ages dramatically both mentally and physically. The film is shot with a rugged handheld style reminiscent of neo-realism; this underplays any potential for Hollywood-style glamorisation. Klimov emphasises the horror of war when Flyora sees a church full of people burned alive by the SS and a sculpture of Hitler created from a human skeleton. Come and See contains images that burn long into the memory, it is cinema at its purest and most powerful. 

9. THE THIN BLUE LINE (DIR. ERROL MORRIS, USA, 1989)

The documentary The Thin Blue Line is a rare example of a film that genuinely changed the course of history. Director Errol Morris explores the legal case of Randall Adams, a man falsely accused for the murder of policeman Robert W. Wood in Dallas, Texas. The film unfolds like an inquiry by a private investigator, yet it also explores the dubious nature of memory through cinematic reconstructions shot in the style of a film noir. Morris’ interviews are unparalleled in their depth of information and quality of delivery; this ultimately lead to Adams being acquitted of the crime, following twelve years in prison and a stint on death row.

10. LE MEPRIS (DIR. JEAN-LUC GODARD, FRANCE, 1963)

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt) is the greatest film ever made about filmmaking. Michel Piccoli stars as Paul, a screenwriter working on an adaptation of The Odyssey at Cinecittà; he is divided between the artistic ambitions of his director, the legendary Fritz Lang (Lang playing himself) and his insolent American producer (Jack Palance). In the opening scene Godard captures the relationship between Paul and his wife Camille (Bridget Bardot) with an authentic intimacy, whilst simultaneously mocking the producer’s demand for nudity as Camille talks in detail about her body parts. Godard is at the mischievous height of his directing powers with Le Mépris; the film is a radical meeting of commercial and subversive filmmaking, but this meeting defines the great French director best.

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On December 20th 2010 one of Iran’s strongest cinematic voices was forcibly silenced. Internationally famous filmmaker Jafar Panahi was charged with “carrying out propaganda against the system” (1). Panahi was initially arrested while making a film in his house along with 18 others. The Tehran Prosecutor said that his arrest is not related to his filmmaking, stating: “His arrest is not because he is an artist and is not political, either. This individual is a suspect for some crimes.” (2) However, the credibility of this claim is seriously lacking given Panahi’s sentence. The sentence means that he will be jailed for six years, but perhaps worse is that he is prevented from writing, filmmaking, giving interviews or travelling abroad for twenty years (3). Essentially he is stripped of his livelihood, his freedom and his voice as a filmmaker. With due consideration to Panahi’s current situation, I will examine three of his films and consider the problems they may pose to the current Iranian constitution. The films I will explore are: The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000) and Offside (2006).

The White Balloon, written by Abbas Kiarostami, is Panahi’s debut feature. It tells the story of a young girl determined to buy a fish. The story explores the various obstacles she encounters as a result of her innocence; a snake charmer steals her money though she manages to get it back, before promptly losing it again down the grate at the entrance to a closed shop. The film gives us a sense of the struggle the little girl has to go through in a society largely dominated by adult males. While this theme is subtle it is still very much present and hints at the prominent concern of both The Circle and Offside. The White Balloon also resembles a reality which provided the inspiration for Offside, that of childish persistence. Panahi has said that his inspiration for Offside (in which a young girl tries to gain entry to a football match) was his own daughter’s determination to get into a football match (4); these subtle ideas in Panahi’s work represent a tendency to contest fundamental conservative values in Iranian society.

I will return to discuss Offside shortly, but before that I want to look at The Circle. Perhaps the bleakest (but by no means hopeless) of the three films I choose to look at here. The Circle displays a storytelling device that Panahi also employs within Offside, that of using multiple protagonists; Panahi uses this as an effective method of representing woman as a social group. In The Circle we follow six characters, each experiencing a different dilemma caused in part by simply being a woman in a decidedly patriarchal society.  The film begins with the mother of a woman who has just given birth to a baby girl. The mother worries that her daughter will be divorced by her husband, as he wanted a son. The mother then encounters three women who have just been released from prison. Without any money the women are worried that they will be arrested again as their only resources may be criminal. One of the women goes in search of another friend who has just escaped from prison. The escapee is pregnant and wants an abortion, but cannot have the abortion approved as the baby’s father was executed in prison.  The escapee meets another woman who attempts to abandon her daughter with a wealthy family, to give her a better life. Following this the escapee is mistaken for a prostitute and is almost arrested. She manages to escape however, but we witness another prostitute being taken to prison instead. As the title suggests, the women are all stuck in a ‘vicious circle’.  While bleak the end of the film involves an act of defiance as the prostitute lights a cigarette, despite being ordered not to by the men taking her to jail. It is the themes of persistence and defiance as seen in The White Balloon and The Circle that characterise Panahi’s films. In Offside he makes the strongest statement, by subversively celebrating these characteristics.

Offside makes use of the multiple protagonist technique as seen in The Circle, once again to explore the defiant nature of a group of girls who share a love of football. The film explores the taboo in Islamic Iranian society whereby women are not allowed to attend male sporting events as spectators (5), regardless of their appreciation of the sport. Panahi successfully dramatises the problem by not simply making this issue a problem purely experienced by females. For instance in one scene a girl who has been caught sneaking into the stadium requests to be taken to the toilet. Her guard escorts her to the toilets, but loses her in the chaos of the stadium; suddenly where once the girl had a problem, the man now does instead. Many of the men in the film are represented as simply doing their duty, often appearing frustrated at their difficult responsibilities and this suggests that it is the overriding ideology that is governing their actions, rather than a real and heartfelt responsibility. Perhaps by exposing the cracks in the dominant ideology Panahi is even more subversive; he does not just represent women as repressed, but represents the consequences the ideology has for men too.  At the end of the film Panahi shows the detained group of women being taken to the Vice Squad, but on the way they are caught up in traffic when news breaks of Iran’s victory in the world cup qualifiers. The women take the opportunity to break out into the streets and celebrate with the male supporters all around them. The idea that Panahi presents here is very powerful and it draws me to consider the twenty year filmmaking ban he has placed on him.

If Panahi is capable of articulately suggesting flaws in the codes of conduct in present-day Iranian society, as well glorifying moments of defiance in day to day activity, then it is no surprise that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s right-wing government would benefit from having his voice as a filmmaker silenced. Furthermore Panahi is also a supporter of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s Green Party of Hope and given the controversy over the 2009 Iranian elections, where Mousavi claimed Ahmadinejad’s victory to be fraudulent, it comes as no surprise that he should find himself in jail. The truth of the situation though is that this is a tragedy not only for freedom of speech in Iran, but also for the international cinema community. We are now deprived of an important cinematic voice for twenty years. But as Panahi put it in an open letter to the Berlin Film Festival 2011:

“I wish my fellow filmmakers in every corner of the world would create such great films that by the time I leave the prison I will be inspired to continue to live in the world they have dreamed of in their films.” (6)

For this reason we must share the work of Jafar Panahi as a symbol of his wish and we must hope that when he is released his influence as a filmmaker will be great enough to make up for the time cinema has spent without him.

OFFSIDE TRAILER:

FREE JAFAR PANAHI PETITION: http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?FJP2310&1

Sources:

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12045248
  2. http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2010/03/arrest-of-iranian-filmmaker-jafar-panahi-and-new-pressure-on-independent-filmmakers/
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12045248
  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy8mj4EjHjw
  5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jun/06/iran.roberttait
  6. http://www.berlinale.de/en/das_festival/festivalprofil/berlinale_themen/openletterpanahi.html

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