Thursday, March 08, 2007

Abbos Kiarostami's Ten (2002)

Iranian director Abbos Kiarostami, whose only previous film I've seen is the exquisite, beautiful Taste of Cherry (1997), is renowned as an experimental filmmaker. His 2002 film Ten records ten conversations between a woman, and the passengers within her car. The conversations range in intensity, intimacy, and purpose; the woman exchanging speech with her son, two of her friends, an old woman, and a prostitute.

Taking a recent example, Paul Greengrass' United 93 (a film I dismissed a little too quickly, partly because of its genre), re-enacts the events of 9/11 (or at least some of them) to compelling and dramatic effect. Many of the characters in the film take action in the same manner we know them to have done on that day in 2001 -- some even playing themelves. Indeed, much of Greengrass' filmography can be quite comfortably assigned to the 'Docu-Drama' sector; but Kiarostami's Ten is a different commodity altogether, and certainly a more difficult film to classify.

The camera(s) remains in a relatively fixed position within the car, giving an air of intrusion into personal space, an up-close authenticity that is stark and impacting. Much like reality television it turns us into voyeurs, absorbing the information we receive; judging the personalities we encounter. It's very difficult not to get wrapped up in the many issues being lampooned around.

The most intriguing and provocative relationship on offer is between mother and son. This accounts for most of the conversations, and throughout them all there is constant unrest. The first conversation in the film is particularly difficult to watch, as they fight over various issues, the most prominent of which is the divorce between the mother and father, which has left both mother and son bitter about various things. It's in this conversation though, that the film is at its most problematic. The claustrophobic method of filming imposes the issues in question upon you in a relentless, almost torturous fashion. Whether they are essentially real or not, this method suggests an element of reality, and therefore the scene often appears rather wayward; especially when the mother proceeds to quote poetry and refer to metaphors of stagnant ponds. Much of her input in this initial conversation is flowery, and detracts from the naturalism of the episode.

Indeed, the character of the driver is not a likeable figure. Aside from lecturing her son in an irrational and often childish way, she goes on to pick up a prostitute, interrogating her about her job, admit to both her friend and her son that she doesn't want him to live with her, and ramble insensitively to her clearly distraught friend. Recent Iranian cinema has been keen to enlighten on the repressed role of women in the country (notably The Circle, 2001) and the proposed role of women in society is explored here. The driver has clearly adopted a more Western, independent and post-modern mentality towards womanhood, and its with this that she proceeds to challenge her passengers: her son's masogynist views, her friend's dependence on her husband, the prostitute's need to be desired by men. But while Kiarostami uses this woman to provoke response, her interrogative nature, whether improvised or scripted, can be construed as both disrespectful and rash.

It's only really when the boy is on screen that the themes of the film begin to take shape, and the struggles between gender and family appear at their most natural and powerful. His anger is emotive, and believably a product both of Iranian society's treatment of Women, and of the rebellion of his mother against her imposed role. Kiarostami's Ten is an examination of this, and subsequently has elements of documentary about it, yet its interrogative tone often descends the film into episodic soap opera, almost alienating some of its characters as fixed representations. It's with this serial-esque account that the line between reality and fiction is continually blurred within the film. Are people really this eager to impose their own values? I'm not so sure.

Grade: B-

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