XL Popcorn – The White Balloon / Close-Up

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The White Balloon (Badkonake sefid)
Director: Jafar Panahi
Year: 1995
Country: Iran

I’m back in Iran and it is a very different world to Through The Olive Trees. It has the same writer (famed director Abbas Kiarostami), but it just goes to prove how different it is in various areas of Iran. The director (Jafar Panahi) uses a similar realistic style to Kiarostami in his direction, which borders on realism with the idea of finding “beauty” is something so normal.

This is his debut film. In ten years time he will go on to direct the more controversial “offside”, a film that I saw 10 years ago (that’s devestating to realze). It is an interesting film to debut with as it is now marketed as a family film. I’ve also seen it written up as a way for English speaking parents to introduce their children to subtitles and arthouse films.

The central focus of the film is a seven year old girl called Razieh. She, more than anything, wants a big fat goldfish. After pestering her mother for the money she sets out to buy her dream fish. Of course, things are not that simple. It is stolen by a snake seller, where none of the surrounding adults actually help the crying girl get her money back. She does when one of the snake sellers takes pity on her, but what about the 15 to 20 grown men who just stand there and laugh at the spectacle. Ugh!

Aida Mohammadkhani, who plays the little girl, is perfect. I mean, sure, she starts off rather bratty since she is asking for a bigger fish as all the others in the family pond are too thin for her. She wins your heart in the end when you realise she’s just a little kid. The goldfish itself appears to be a metaphor for Iranian culture in general. The fish in the pond are probably not as thin as she thinks, there is a scene at the goldfish shop where we get the hint that you’ve been looking at things using the wrong perspective. This only hit me at the end of the film when I started to wonder why this was called The White Balloon.

The focus is so much on the girl who wants money for a fish when there is actually a societal point. The white balloon does not refer to the girl and or her brother (who later joins in search of the lost money), but to the balloon seller that helps them out at the end. He looks different from everyone else we see. In fact, he looked remarkably East Asian (I read up later that he is Afghan). I actually noticed him in the beginning sequence selling his balloons since, obviously, I figured he would be a big character as the title has the word balloon in it.

The film ends with the kids getting their money back and the Afghan balloons seller being left alone without much notice. It’s quite a melancholic ending despite the fact that the girl got the money back and runs off in victory to buy her fish. An interesting one for parents to explain to their children if they notice how the director has chosen to end it.

Title: Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Year: 1990
Country: Iran

I enjoyed my stay in Iran so much that I thought I might as well stick around for a second movie. This marks the third Iranian film that I’ve seen since my wrists decided to be little shits. It is only the second film by Abbas Kiarostami and I may be becoming a bit of fan. I’m only left with one more film by him on this 1001 list so I’m torn between watching it soon will saving it for towards the end.

It is hard to describe exactly what Close-Up is. It is, on the one hand, a documentary and yet so much of the narrative’s pacing makes it feel like a expertly scripted drama. In any case this really happened. Picture the scene: a middle aged woman is riding a bus and mistakes a fellow passenger for a famous director. Rather than correcting her this man goes along with the conceit and get himself into a position where, within a week, he has been able to convince members of his family that he is this person and almost as quickly is discovered and arrested.

Websites describe this film as a docudrama much in the same way you would describe Through The Olive Trees. However, unlike that film everything in Close-Up is real. The footage is a mixture of reenactments and documentary footage. In these reenactments the plaintiffs and the defendant portray themselves, which makes it a very weird exercise. It is only in the final scene where it makes sense that both sides and would agree to do this. I’m not going to say what happens, but I was very much moved.

What does it take for someone to go to the lengths that the defendant did when he pretended to be this famous Iranian movie director? I’m not entirely sure we actually get the answer in this film. How often do you see someone who lives in poverty quoting Tolstoy during his trial? I very much agree with the assessment made by the judge and prosecution at the end of the trial. He is probably a man who for the first time in his life was shown respect by those of a richer class. He is also someone who clearly has self esteem issues. It is hard not to pity him. His tears in the final scene feel so genuine… and yet your left wondering if he is having us on.

It is such a thought provoking and slightly off kilter documentary. I’ve not been able to get that final scene out of my head since I watched it. If I don’t end up watching a taste of cherry” soon I might have to dig out my DVD of Certified Copy.

Progress: 488/1007

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