Archive for A Moment of Innocence

Colour Me Kiarostami

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 20, 2017 by dcairns

(Watching Iranian films is useful for reasons other than the purely cinematic. I think a lot of us don’t really see inhabitants of Muslim countries as being people just like us. When you see the movies, you realise they are.)

This is the ending of CLOSE-UP, more or less. Spoiler alert!

Abbas Kiarostami’s film tells the true story of a poor man who impersonates film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, working his way into the bosom of a family by claiming he wants to film in their house and cast their grown-up kids in his forthcoming film, HOUSE OF THE SPIDERS. Not a very flattering title. Remarkably, Kiarostami is able to get all the participants in this weird and creepy true-life tale to play themselves. Even the real Makhmalbaf turns up at the end.

The whole time I was watching this, I was wondering if the “Bogus Makhmalbaf” is telling the truth when he says he carried out this fraud as a way of getting vicariously involved in cinema, which he loved, and because it gave him, for the first time in his life, a sense of AUTHORITY. I wondered if he was perhaps attracted to one or other of the young siblings. “Was it the sex thing? Was in the old sex thing, Archie?” asked Arthur Hill in PETULIA. The movie doesn’t challenge the excuses given, but we do have space to make up our own stories.

At the end of the film, Bogus M is released from his short prison sentence, meets the Real M (who toyed with fiction and truth in his own film, A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE), and goes to apologise to the family he conned.

He buzzes the door and says his name. Silence. They do know his real name, but I guess they’re not used to hearing it from him?

So he says, “Makhmalbaf,” to remind them. Silence again. Possibly that wasn’t the right thing to say, if he’s meant to be a reformed character.

Then Real Makhmalbaf steps forward and says “Makhmalbaf” into the intercom and this time the door is opened. He said it with much more AUTHORITY.

Kubrick, of course, also had an impersonator, and this also became the subject of a film, COLOUR ME KUBRICK. To make a round trilogy, we really ought to dig up another story about a celebrity impersonator fixating on an arthouse filmmaker with a K in his name. If no such story exists yet, who can we have impersonated in order to make it true? Best not be Toback.

(Is it OK to begin a blog post with a parenthesis? Oh well, too late now.)


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2013 by dcairns


I’m jumping on a plane to Venice today, en route to Pordenone. So as a stop-gap measure, here’s the list of screenings I’ve set for students at Edinburgh College of Art where I work. They’ve already had THE GENERAL, M and CRISS CROSS.

The screenings start off in chronological order but then meander. The choices are not so much to fill in vital areas of film history — impossible to do with so few! — but to hint at the development of the medium while pointing to clues useful to our students’ work. Things like POV and subjective emotional effects, use of time, movement, props and their relationship to character and story, seducing the audience to go on a journey…

My blurbs are on the basic side, written in half an hour…

(Akira Kurosawa)
The film that introduced Japanese cinema to the west. A dizzying exploration of truth and lies. Several people have witnessed a murder, but at trial their accounts differ so radically that nobody can make sense of what really happened. Kurosawa turns this premise into a hypnotic, sometimes shocking, always beautiful study of our problematic relationship to truth.

(Ingmar Bergman)
An old man nearing death goes on a journey into his past. Bergman’s poetic film uses cinema to explore time and memory as a key to character. The aging actor/director Victor Sjostrom, in his last role, is extraordinary.

(John Frankenheimer)
A man is approached by a mysterious company who offer him a new life. A new face, a new identity, a chance to start again. Second helpings. Both melancholy and stylistically dazzling, the film unites the influences of Hollywood, television, and European arthouse to paint a haunting portrait of longing and failure that will incidentally terrify you.

(Nicolas Roeg)
Visually beautiful, romantic, frightening. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are grieving parents in wintry Venice, haunted by visions of their dead child and embroiled in a deeper, darker mystery. Roeg practically reinvented film cutting with his allusive, mosaic-like approach, fragmenting time and space.


(Bob Fosse)
Not always considered in the context of New Hollywood cinema (Scorsese, Coppola etc), but he definitely belongs there, the choreographer-turned-director Fosse proved himself with this divinely decadent exploration of Berlin night-life in the years just before the rise of Hitler. A musical which is also sinister, sexy, scary, political and unsettling.

(Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
Documentary and fiction crash together in such a way that you can’t tell them apart. Director Makhmalbaf decides to make a film about the policeman he stabbed during the Iranian revolution. He hires the policeman to play himself. What will a fictional recreation of a real event reveal?

Classic and obscure short fiction films selected to broaden or even explode your thinking about story, performance, photography, design, editing…

Pierre Etaix stands somewhere between Jaques Tati and Woody Allen, delivering visuals gags around romantic situations. Playing almost like a series of short films, The Suitor follows Pierre’s misadventures as he doggedly tries to find romance, without understanding really what it is. For his use of framing, props and the language of film, Etaix is a master to learn from.

(Bernardo Bertolucci)
Simply one of the most exhilarating pieces of filmmaking ever, this political thriller is also a dark psychological drama and a joyous romp through cinematic technique. Clerici wants to please Italy’s fascist rulers because he needs to feel he belongs – he’s worried about an event in his youth which may mark him as different. The state sends him to Paris to assassinate his old teacher, to prove his loyalty. Since he’s getting married, he brings his new wife along – it’ll make a nice honeymoon…

A delightful mystery which serves up the true spirit of Christmas: murder, suspicion, insanity and malaise. But all wrapped up at the end in a way that’s charming and funny and surprisingly heart-warming. Amazing to think this confection was first served up during the Nazi occupation.

Up until the last minute the list included COME AND SEE, an amazing film which I think students would get a lot out of… but I began to fear that the schedule was getting to be too much of a wrist-slitter. I don’t find any of these films depressing, but some light and shade is useful.

I Have Questions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by dcairns

All from Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE —

That’s little Hana Makhmalbaf at top, now a director herself (not yet as famous as her sister Samira).

The little I’ve read about this remarkable film — one scene, where characters suddenly become characters in a film within the film, in mid-gesture and with no framework for doing so, reminded a student of mine of Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, and the way the narrative folds back on itself so that one scene unexpectedly collides with a previous one still strikes me as mindblowing and almost unprecedented, although it’s a bit like that bit in JACKIE BROWN — suggests that Makhmalbaf, having assaulted a policeman during his rebellious student days, teamed up with the cop years later to make this movie. That is the plot of this film, but it is far from certain how much of it may be true. The policeman doesn’t seem like an actor: nobody does. But this isn’t documentary, everything has clearly been staged. The scenes that unfold before us, staged by the Makhmalbaf outside the movie, have a low-affect naturalism somewhere between documentary and amateur dramatics. The scenes we see being staged by the Makhmalbaf within the movie, who positions his actors and briefs them on their actions, are much less convincing (they could hardly be otherwise, when we can see the camera and hear the director’s voice). The very funny sequences which create comedy out of sheer duration (the realistic humour of somebody asking ten times if their cousin wants a cup of tea) make me wonder if MM is a fan of Jerry Lewis the way Kiarostami is a fan of Chaplin.

I remain uncertain how much of the story in the film (a kind of fake making-of documentary which contains the film being made) is based on truth, and how much pure invention. I don’t need to know: I like feeling curious.

Also, I preceded my screening of the film for students with Kiarostami’s tiny short TWO SOLUTIONS TO ONE PROBLEM, a school programme in which fighting children are shown an alternative way to handle a dispute. A miniature drama about staying friends with the boy who tore your homework jotter which suddenly expands to be about the whole problem of modern civilization. And after watching A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE again, it strikes me that in this sense, it has exactly the same story.

(Thanks to Mark Cousins for forcing this movie upon me.)