The Still Water That Runs Deep into Our Heart--On Abbas Kiarostami and his Close-Up
Kiarostami’s films often somehow take me by surprise, as with his film Close-Up. For a film made in the early 1990s, Close-Up is still fresh, powerful and impactful as before. Since the 1980s, Kiarostami as a director had made over 10 films, such as The Bread and Alley, The Traveler, Where Is the Friend's Home? Homework, Close-Up, And Life Goes On, Through The Olive Trees, Taste of Cherry and Certified Copy. It’s said that Kiarostami liked Close-Up the best. This is probably not just because the film won him many awards in the world but also because it would set the tone for his films to follow and form the signature personal style of his own.
His uniqueness is first reflected in his stories on ordinary people. Close-Up tells a story about a grass-root unemployed young man. An enthusiastic movie fan, the unemployed painter called Sabzian comes up with an idea of impersonating the famous director Makhmalbaf and borrowing money from rich man Ahankhah. His scheme is exposed and he is arrested and sued against. Unexpectedly, the rich man decides to drop all the charges when he learns about the reasons. What’s more surprising, the director Makhmalbaf comes to the court himself to pick up Sabzian, which helps him realize his dream. The film offers a panoramic view in details of ordinary people’s hard lives and inner struggles, and the society’s various aspects, forgiveness and tolerance. It is a sad song by little people, but also a concerto by the good ordinary folks. With Hollywood worshiping superheroes and Chinese filmmakers busy creating a fantasy world of ghosts and gods, this film is especially sincere and heart-warming.
Kiarostami’s uniqueness is also reflected in the overlapping of fiction and reality. The most valuable asset of art is originality. It is no easy job to stand out from hundreds of thousands of films. Close-Up, however, has distinguished itself from others. From the beginning to the end, the film is improvised during filming. It wraps the story with rich drama in the framework of a documentary, mixing reality with fictional contents. The barrier between documentaries and dramas as two parallel categories is broken down and dissolved in this film. It’s difficult to tell if this is a drama film or a documentary. The authority and rules of the textbook on film are thus challenged. Starting from Close-Up, Kiarostami seemed to have found his own way of filmmaking that he was comfortable working with. He stuck to it in his later works such as And Life Goes On and Through the Olive Trees.
Kiarostami showed his humanity quietly through the images of his films. He was undoubtedly a humanitarian and humanist. His sympathy for the people at the bottom of the society, his humanitarian ideas close to his heart and his love and passion for life permeate every bit of his narrating and filming. In Close-Up, we can’t see the deliberate show-off of techniques, flamboyant colors, or manmade metaphors or symbols. Everything is plain and natural. As an old Chinese poem would well describe them, “Creeks run like they have no intention to run, clouds emerge like they bear no purpose to show”. Abbas put himself at the zero point in morality. He was not startled in the face of paradoxical real life but remained peaceful and calm.. But it doesn't mean that artists shouldn't have their own moral standings. The zero point means brilliant aesthetics. It can only be reached when an artist has fundamental and specific understanding of his own culture and people and devotes all his passion and love to them.
I have a question, though. Why is Close-Up translated as “特写(a close-up picture)” in Chinese? “Close-up” also means the act or process of closing up on something, or getting closer to something. It seems that “闭合(merging)” might be a more appropriate Chinese title. It would provoke the audience’s imagination and make the film more memorable.