A Tree among a Number of Trees and The Cost of a Dream
“Cinema is important to me. It’s like a prism. With every good film I see, I feel reborn… I identify with the director. I identify with the actors. I feel as if it is my story. I let my love for cinema destroy my life.” –Hossien Sabzian (Close-Up: Long Shot)
“We are born in the middle of a road, and we die in the middle of a road. If you look behind you, it’s a well-traveled road, just like the road in front of you. We also travel a little bit of this road.” –Abba Kiarostami (A Walk with Kiarostami)
I watch a lot of movies. It seldom matters if the movie is foreign or who made the movie—well, after watching so many movies, I now seek after movies made by directors whose movies I often enjoy: Abba Kiarostami is one, Francois Truffaut and Krzysztof Kieslowski are ones, and Antoine Fuqua and F Gary Gray are ones. But in general, I’m open to watching all kinds of movies, especially foreign movies, and delight in finding a movie that directly has an impact on my understanding of the world, how movies are made, and how life and art intersect. Kiarostami’s Close-up is such a movie.
Close-Up is a movie that makes me upset, but also makes me appreciate and be careful not to take for granted, the freedom I have as a literary artist and entrepreneur living in a country with a free market economy. Democracy isn’t perfect and Capitalism has its flaws, but together they allow for an individual to make a commodity of something he is good at, or from something he is good at, and sell it to a consumer as a product of service or product for service. There are realities that stem from a system of supply and demand that are unacceptable, such as exploitation of labor, inequitable wages, mediocre product that resourced low-grade materials to meet market demands, inflation, etcetera. I don’t want to pan away from commenting on those realities, but rather focus your attention on the subject matter of Close-Up (and The Traveler—a movie about a boy who goes to extremes to watch a futbol match and, after conning a number of people out of their coin to afford admission into the match, and traveling a lengthy distance from his hometown to the match, falls asleep on a lawn inside the arena while waiting for the match to start, and misses the match!). And also Close-up: Long Shot directed by Moslem Mansouri and Mahmoud Chokrollahi.
What immediately struck me as definitive about Close-Up (in addition to the unexpected shot of what seemed like a random aerosol can that rolled down a hill in a somewhat early chapter of the movie), is that it is a movie about a cinephile who has the ambition to become a director but who can’t realize his ambition for a number of reasons; the main reason being that he is poor and lives in poverty. Eventually he disguises himself as a well-known director in order to con a family out of the budget it would cost him to direct his own movie, and the illusion of what it was like to be a director–because of the admiration, reverence, and money he received from the family–made it difficult for him to stop pretending; even after, as he said it in …Long Shot, describing what it was like to dress up as another person and the feeling he felt when he knew the jig was up, “There were no more clothes that fit me.”
Indeed, Hossein Sabzian loved cinema and got away with masquerading as Mohsen Makhmalbaf for several days. Sabzian was brought up on charges of fraud and sentenced to time in jail, but eventually, the family dropped the charges. At one point in the movie, while he is on trial and defending his actions as a statement of art, he says that he is the boy from The Traveler—his reference to The Traveler is what made me watch The Traveler to further understand his character. And for me, that was interesting enough. But more intriguing than that was the fact that the actors in Close-Up are actually played by the real-life people that went through the ordeal and the movie is filmed on location with actual footage from the trial. Which makes Close-Up something of a hybrid, not entirely fiction and not entirely fact, and that captivates me–like skin. (Skin is the largest organ of the body and it has several layers; it’s most important function is to protect us as it enables us to present ourselves to the world. Skin renews itself regularly; and in some places and in certain situations, the characteristics of skin change a person’s status.) Close-Up: Long Shot got under my skin.
I once heard a writer say that the truth is a well-told lie. And I’ve also heard a poet say that truth and music are interchangeable.
What later struck me about Close-Up made me aware of Sadzian’s disposition toward art and life. Through one lens it appeared to me that the success of Close-Up should partially be attributed to Sabzian who is the hero of the movie; attributes should recognize that, though he committed a crime, the crime itself was an act of art, and could be viewed as performance art, especially since it seems that he was going to cast the family he conned into his movie, and too that Kiarostami took interest in the case and began filming the trial. Although I thought the same thing Sabzian’s sister thought when she compared her brother’s plight to that of Jean Valjean’s plight in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” I also thought Sabzian’s move to obtain his life’s goal was a “come-up.” But watching his interview in …Long Shot and hearing his afterthoughts, makes me think his move was more of a comeuppance. He didn’t think that the result of Close-Up from his misadventure was a come-up, he thought that he himself was conned! He points out everyone who was involved in the making of Close-up for having an agenda and working from an angle, and so leads me through another lens to believe that he received the short end of the stick after all the carrots had been given out, but that’s not entirely true. It does make me wonder though if Sabzian received compensation for his involvement in Close-Up and Close-Up: Long Shot; and also, did any opportunities to be involved in other movies as a director, writer, or actor come about from his role in Close-up?
After watching Close-Up: Long Shot I had a second thought about the aerosol can. I thought that the aerosol can served its purpose for the movie; it was an object that existed in the movie outside of its material function. It was a piece of litter and so was treated as a piece of litter is treated, discarded without a second thought until it gets in someone’s way. The aerosol can was in the way of a taxi driver who early in the film says something along the lines of, “I don’t have time to watch movies, I’m too busy with life,” and who picked flowers presumably to beautify his taxi; he lifted a flower from beneath the aerosol can and that is what sent the can rolling down the hill; the can came to another resting stop until a journalist, who wanted to break Sabzian’s story, rushed about looking for a tape recorder and kicked the can like a futbol for being in his way, and that is the last we see of the can. I couldn’t help but think that the role of the can was somehow figurative of Sabzian’s plight.
It seems to me that the role of an artist is not only to create but to make the most of his life-experiences withstanding the obstacles he faces and to manifest his creativity in the world and that, what he leaves behind, is a testament to what he was able to accomplish. Sabzian died years after Close-Up: Long Shot was completed, but before he was able to fully manifest his love and devotion to cinema. I can’t be sure who conned who in order to accomplish a movie like Close-Up, perhaps Sadzian’s accusations are spot on, and that indeed he let his love for cinema destroy his life, but thanks to the Criterion Collection movie lovers can watch, study, enjoy, critique, deconstruct, promote and champion both Sabzian and Kiarostami, and Makhmalbaf too—who makes a cameo in the movie—for accomplishing a captivating movie.