Written by: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Abolfazl Ahankhah
Cinematic feats are rare because many films simply tell their stories fairly plainly, but some shift the entire perspective of how a story could be told and presented. Those landmark moments deserve their recognition, which is where we find Close-Up. A wholly examination of forgiveness told through the lens of the actual people involved.
Hossain Sabzian loves film and when he gets the opportunity to impersonate one of his favorite filmmakers, he takes the opportunity. This leads him to interact with a family obsessed with the same director. Things begin to get complicated when it becomes clear Sabzian is lying and gets arrested for fraud.
Having context before watching Close-Up makes it such a wildly different experience for this story because, on the surface, it shows quite a straightforward narrative. The straightforwardness becomes suspicious but it occurs because this actually happened and the actors portraying these people are the real individuals involved with this situation. Something I did not realize when first watching it through, but looking at the story overall with this lens makes it a completely different experience. With some re-enactments but also real footage of what occurred in the aftermath, Close-Up displays humanity at its purest with the perfect filmmaker to tell the story.
Abbas Kiarostami uses minimalist filmmaking to its greatest degree with utilizing the bare bones of the story and just letting it ride. Nothing flashy needs to happen, but he just allows his characters to be real human beings within their environments. Close-Up certainly gets more straightforward with its story because it is based on reality by even using the people involved. This allows an accurate portrayal of the culture we’re watching and the people who inhabit it.
The story behind the making of this film almost draws more intrigue than the product we see on screen because of how Abbas Kiarostami gained interest in this whole ordeal and even filmed the court case himself. The case revolved around Sabzian’s fraud, which seriously shows the severity of this crime in the country of Iran. What seems like a harmless crime blows up into a situation where he could face jail time because of his impersonation of another man. Sabzian uses the identity simply to have this feeling of being loved by others but never gained anything tangible from the experience. Certainly, this story would occur differently in the United States, but it demonstrates what makes Close-Up such an immersive experience.
Having the people involved with the incident in this story must have been quite the experience for Sabzian and others. With some scenes being re-enacted, it allows these individuals to relive moments of betrayal, but also allows for forgiveness at the moment. It creates this incredible blend of narrative, reality, and documentary-like footage all wrapped into one presentation. It boggles my mind how Abbas Kiarostami conceived of the idea. By the very existence of the feature, one can determine the final outcome by the fact everyone came together to portray themselves in the story, but it becomes fascinating regardless.
At the heart of this story shows a man looking for appreciation and love, even if he may receive it from people who think he’s someone else. These feelings stem from the inherent human value of wanting to have a connection with others. Sabzian proves this idea in the way he ingratiates himself into this family, but also in the artistic expression he has. As a cinephile, he loves the world of film, and being thought of as a revered filmmaker provides the opportunity to be looked upon in a different way by those around him. All of this contributes to the completely humanistic approach of this story.
A superbly original experience, Close-Up provides a look into an actual event under the guise of it being a narrative feature. How this film came to be may be more interesting than the story happening within it, but nonetheless, it proves to be something everyone should watch. It demonstrates yet another cinematic achievement by Abbas Kiarostami with his minimalist style. A wonderful beacon showing the artistry in filmmaking occurring within Iran. Along with his other great works like Taste of Cherry and Where is the Friend’s Home? his work continues to stun me with how profound the simplest of stories can be.