Close-Up (Review)

Close-Up (8 out of 10)

Nema-ye Nazdik
Dir. Abbas Kiarostami

Should You See the Film?

If you like humanistic films—and by that I mean films that understand people and depicts them in a compassionate way, particularly their weaknesses—then I would highly recommend Close-Up. If that sentence applies to you, just stop reading and go see the film. Keep on reading if not.

Here is the plot: a man poses as a famous director and befriends a well-to-do family. When the family discovers the man is a fraud, they take him to court. This is a real life story, and the film covers the way the man meets the family, his arrest and the actual trial.

What is interesting is that the director utilizes the real people involved in the incident to play themselves. The film is a reenactment of the events that happened, although trial scenes seems to be the actual trial.

There are some potential barriers to completing this film and enjoying it. First, the film takes place in Iran and the footage looks very crude, giving a Third World feeling. The opening scene with a man and two armed men in uniform reinforce that feeling. This impression may not be a problem for some, but it can be for me. The film looks more like anthropological, low-budget film, rather than an entertaining and professional looking film.

Viewers may also feel the film moves too slowly. It took 30 minutes into the film before the main character —the star of the film—appeared in any interesting way, imo (Although some people may find the first 30 minutes an effective arousal of curiosity.) As I said, the filmmaking is rather plain and at times crude—making the film look like news footage from the Third World, so don’t expect any incredible displays of filmmaking.

(Slight Spoilers)

What is incredible are the people in the film, particularly the main character, (Sabzian) who pretends to be famous director. Later in the film Sabzian is taken to trial and asked all the questions we, as the audience, would like to know, too: why did he do it? did he have a plan to take advantage of the family? These questions are explored, and I watched with interest, both because of the specific answers Sabzian’s gave and the revelation of himself throughout the proceedings.

One last reason for seeing the film: to see the humanity of Iranians. With ism and anti-Muslim feelings running high in our country, seeing the human side of these people is a good thing. Indeed, their courts impressed me, which ran counter to my general impression of an authoritarian and oppressive judicial system. The judge did seem to wield all the power—there was no jury or lawyers. Actually, come to think of it, the set-up was like Judge Judy or other shows of that ilk, although I to make that comparison because it does not do justice to the poignancy of the film.

Personal Comments

By choosing the title, Close-Up, I suspect Kiarostami wants us to look under the surface of crimes, the people who commit them and take a closer values of society in general. The reasons people commit crimes are not always simple. If we saw those motivations as well as the context of the person’s life, we may may feel a lot more compassionate towards that person and, at the very least, appreciate the complexity and nuance in the situation. Films like Monster and Dead-Man Walking also do a good job of this. Unlike those films, using the word “crime” to describe the main character’s action doesn’t seem so appropriate at the end of the film.

Hossein Sabzian is the that main character and star of the film. My rating of the film is an 8, but Sabzian gets a 10. Both his love of art—particularly art that expressed suffering of people—and his need for attention, respect and love from other people really touched me. In his court testimony, he claims that he pretended to be Makhmalbaf, the famous director, because he respected the director. When he seemed to get respect and attention from a woman in the bus because of this celebrity status, he could not give up the ruse. That touched me, particularly because of his humble attitude (versus a narcissistic craving of power) and his eventual remorse for deceiving the family. How can you harshly judge someone like that?

However during the film, Sabzian’s sincerity was not certain: was he a genuinely humble, and needy person? Or was he a clever con-man? One of the sons suspected Sabzian’s testimony was part of an act, and that’s something I considered, too. These questions made the film compelling to watch. In the end though I believe Sabzian is sincere.

What makes Sabzian endearing is that he regrets what he did to that family, and you see him express that feeling to the judge. (I was so impressed by the compassionate and humane way the judge treated every one in the court. He made the decision, and he would asked the family if they forgave Sabzian. Whatever they said would factor into his decision. I thought that was so human and his approach felt closer to justice than my impression of American courts. Maybe the judge behaved this way because of the camera, but it was nice to see an approach counter to my pre-conceived notions.) Finally, I loved bringing the real Makhmalbaf to meet Sabzian as he comes out of jail. On seeing Makhmalbaf, Sabzian weeps, and Makhmalbaf gently asking, “Why are you crying? Don’t cry,” was very moving.

As we examine Sabzian’s life and situation “close-up” we begin to learn that he is a good person. In a moment of weakness he pretends to be a famous person—not out of some criminal plot to rob a rich family, but simply because he wants respect, acceptance and love.

The film also examines the values of society. One reviewer mentioned the film’s criticism of the importance of celebrity in society. I like that observation. Sabzian’s realization that he will be respected and listened to if he maintains his celebrity status is an indictment on society. Had Sabzian not pretended to be Maklmalbaf, the family would not have treated Sabzian with the respect and deference they did. One cannot entirely blame them for that. But what does it mean when a society holds celebrity above things like humility, sensitivity and goodness? Sabzian seemed to be a very decent person, yet being that way was not enough to win respect and warm affection by others in society. I think the film can lead people—especially the upper and middle classes—to reflect on their values and ways they evaluate people. The family the befriends Sabzian is clearly well-off. They have a large beautiful home and their sons are well-educated, while Sabzian is from the lower classes.

Let mention something about the film’s style. As I mentioned Kiarostami utilizes the real people to play themselves. They really seem natural and comfortable reenacting the scenes that took place, but questions about the authenticity of their portrayal come to mind. These are the same questions one would ask about reality TV programs like, “MTV: The Real World.” Are they acting or are they being “real?” Close-Up is different in that real people are recreating situations they participated in, but their re-enactments seem natural and real to me.

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