September 6 - October 30
“Cinema is truth twenty-four frames per second.”—Jean-Luc Godard
“In cinema, by fabricating lies we may never reach the fundamental truth, but we will always be on our way to it. We can never get close to the truth except through lying.”—Abbas Kiarostami
"Film begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami.”—Jean-Luc Godard
From September 6 through October 30, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents the retrospective Abbas Kiarostami, a series that encompasses a total of thirty-two films, the largest selection of the work of this major Iranian director yet available in North America. Most titles are presented in new digital restorations, thanks to the Criterion Collection and mk2. Included are twenty-two full-length and short features, and ten shorts. Early short features including EXPERIENCE, FELLOW CITIZEN, and FIRST GRADERS are exceedingly rare, while a number of the shorts were only recently rediscovered and restored. The October portion of the series is predominantly devoted to later work.
In a filmmaking career that extended from THE BREAD AND ALLEY, his first short in 1970, to 24 FRAMES, his final feature, completed and released following his untimely 2016 death, Kiarostami’s career blazed with the creativity of a true innovator. Born in Tehran in 1940, and exhibiting an early interest in the arts, he earned a degree in painting at Tehran University. Throughout his life, he was to apply his wide-ranging talents to poetry, photography, installation art, and design, all of which fed into his career in cinema.
Using the most minimal of narrative methods and many non-professional actors, Kiarostami frequently lays bare the artifice behind the fiction, creating films within films in complex and layered stories that grapple with issues at the very heart of human existence. His protagonists are often motivated by quests, as in WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, or engaged in journeys, as in AND LIFE GOES ON, with the journey itself becoming the end goal. Kiarostami’s own quest was for an emotional and societal truth that could not be attained through realism alone. Is he a realist or a master illusionist? His modus operandi is to tease a greater and more accurate reality from the facts through fiction.
The Palme d’Or that Kiarostami was awarded for A TASTE OF CHERRY at Cannes in 1997 confirmed what scores of critics had already discerned: that this was a master of his medium working at the height of his powers. As he moved increasingly in an international sphere, gaining a wide international audience, Kiarostami nurtured the Persian roots of his work while delving ever deeper into experimentation with self-reflexive narrative, illusion, and cinematic sleight of hand, never losing his compassionate eye on the vagaries of life.
Women gained a new ascendency in his work, as did themes of emotional resonance, in films including TEN, CERTIFIED COPY, and LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE. In these films, relationships are most often based on illusion, and communications between men and women are governed by slippery trade-offs, compromises, and half-truths. By contrast, SHIRIN is a stirring portrait of womankind through the faces of 113 actresses.
In his later work, Kiarostami’s methods evolved with changing technology, and he brought an artist’s boundless curiosity to the transition to digital filmmaking. In digital technology he found the perfect tools for altering images to his idealized vision, in films including FIVE (FOR OZU) and 24 FRAMES. Manipulating, altering, and creating seamless composite imagery, he found the means to arrive at truth through illusion.
For their assistance in preparing this retrospective, the Gene Siskel Film Center thanks: Brian Belovaric, Janus Films; Justin Di Pietro, IFC Films; Jonathan Rosenbaum; Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa; and Ehsan Khoshbakht.
SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT! Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Kiarostami film on any Saturday in August, September, or October, and get a ticket for the second Kiarostami film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)
And Life Goes On
...Va zendengi edameh darad
1992, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 96 min.
With Farhad Kheradmand, Puya Pievar
- Sat, Sep 21st 3:00pm
- Mon, Sep 23rd 6:00pm
“[A] scintillating collision between straightforward documentary, naturalistic fiction, and historical fable.”—Jesse Cataldo, Spectrum Culture
In the aftermath of northern Iran’s horrific 1990 earthquake, a film director (Kheradmand, a fictional stand-in for Kiarostami), accompanied by his young son, sets out by car to find the two boys featured in WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE? The search for survivors and the process of digging out dominates this corner of the world, and the boys’ remote village of Koker is said to be inaccessible and totally destroyed. Across the rugged landscape split by random fissures in the earth and resonating with the grief of thousands of fatalities, father and son encounter humanity in its most elemental survival mode. Although the film appears to be largely a documentary, Kiarostami gradually reveals the fiction that serves as the framework for this powerful picture of hope, humor, determination, and acceptance among those fated to live. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
1983, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 52 min. (Total show: 88 min.)
- Sat, Sep 21st 5:00pm
“One of the most exciting experiments of Kiarostami's career."—Alberto Elena, The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami
Kiarostami's own youthful employment as a traffic cop informs this short documentary feature. Filmed in tight, telephoto close shots, it centers on a single policeman who is attempting to enforce a regulation restricting traffic in the center of Tehran. As he arbitrates an endless barrage of excuses and exhortations from the city's notoriously anarchic drivers, the policeman becomes a tragicomic antihero struggling to maintain order ("You must respect the plan!" he keeps saying) in the face of a steady stream of chaos.
Preceded by THE CHORUS (1982, 18 min.), a post-Revolution political allegory centering on an old man who turns off his hearing aid to escape the noise around him, and ORDERLY OR DISORDERLY (1981, 18 min.), a variation on FELLOW CITIZEN's theme of order vs. chaos that "inaugurated the audacious irony and reverberant symbolism that would become Kiarostami's mode of creation for the rest of his career" (Richard Brody, The New Yorker). All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
Through the Olive Trees
Zir-e derakhtan-e zeytun
1994, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 104 min.
With Mohammad-Ali Keshavarz, Hossein Rezai, Tahareh Ladanian
- Sat, Sep 28th 3:00pm
- Wed, Oct 2nd 6:00pm
“Mesmerizingly beautiful.”—John A. Nesbitt, Old School Reviews
"The final shot is one of the best you’ll ever see.”—Jon Popick, Planet S Magazine
The villagers of the rugged mountain region devastated by the 1990 earthquake still struggle to reconstruct their lives and homes as Kiarostami returns to the location of AND LIFE GOES ON two years later. The actor who plays the director turns to the camera to describe his role in this film-within-a-film, then steps into character to take up the story. Tahareh, a headstrong local girl, is unhappily cast in a role opposite Hossein, her rejected suitor. The pairing proves the production’s headache when the young man persists in a stalker-like courtship. The filmmaking process itself is at the center of the film, and Kiarostami periodically peels back layers of artifice in the course of seamlessly blending fiction with the illusion of documentary. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
A Wedding Suit
Lebasi Baray-e Arusi / aka A Suit for the Wedding
1976, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 60 min. (Total show: 84 min.)
With Mohammad Fazih Motaleb, Massud Zand Begleh, Mehdi Nekui
- Sat, Sep 28th 5:00pm
Plottier than usual for Kiarostami, A WEDDING SUIT is a comedy with a bitter undertone of class and age divisions. It marks a return to the shop-boy world of EXPERIENCE, but this time with three young protagonists. Ali is an assistant in a tailor shop; his pals Hossein and Mamad both want to borrow a suit that has recently been made there for an upper-class boy. The puzzles posed by the plot are: Which boy will get the coveted garment? What is the purpose he intends to use it for? And will it be returned to the shop before its absence is noticed?
Preceded by TWO SOLUTIONS FOR ONE PROBLEM (1975, 6 min.), a cheeky moral lesson described by Jonathan Rosenbaum as "Laurel & Hardy directed by Robert Bresson;" and HOW TO MAKE USE OF LEISURE TIME: PAINTING (1977, 18 min.), in which two boys refurbish a door. All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
Taste of Cherry
1997, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France, 100 min.
With Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri
- Fri, Oct 4th 8:00pm
- Mon, Oct 7th 6:00pm
“Minimalist yet powerful and life-enhancing…this masterpiece has a powerful epilogue that radiates wonder and euphoria.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
“Exquisite…Kiarostami, like no other filmmaker, has a vision of human scale that is simultaneously epic and precisely miniscule.”—Stephen Holden, The New York Times
The profound intersection of life and death is the provocative mystery at the center of this masterwork in which the middle-aged intellectual Badii (Ershadi) seeks a volunteer to carry out his burial in the aftermath of his planned suicide. Badii takes his search to the twisting mountainous roads outside of Tehran, where prospective helpers include a young soldier, a security guard, and a refugee. In a series of vehicle-bound confrontations, philosophies collide, the rules of man meet the laws of nature, and life in all its elusive vibrancy paradoxically rules. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. In Persian with English subtitles. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (BS)
The Wind Will Carry Us
Baad mara khahas bord
1999, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 119 min.
With Behzad Dourani, Noghre Asadi
- Sat, Oct 5th 3:00pm
- Wed, Oct 9th 7:45pm
“Deeply, patiently observational…a mystery of ineffable beauty.”—Calum Marsh, Village Voice
Kiarostami followed his greatly acclaimed TASTE OF CHERRY with another film that considers deeply and simply the meaning of life. An engineer, head of a team that descends on a remote mountain village, devises a one-man rat race in the course of pursuing his mysterious mission. Barreling over rocky trails in his Jeep or talking self-importantly on his cell phone from the cemetery, the highest point in the village, he seems oblivious to the rhythms of life as it’s lived in this time and place. With gentle irony and profound consequences, Kiarostami interjects the imminent death of an elderly village lady and its subsequent ancient mourning ritual as a catalyst for change. In Persian with English subtitles. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (BS)
Case #1, Case #2
Qazih-e shekl-e aval, dovom
1979, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 48 min. (Total show: 87 min.)
- Sat, Oct 5th 5:15pm
"A wonderful snapshot of the first tide of revolution."—Alberto Elena, The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami
When a student surreptitiously disrupts a class, he and his mates are sent out into the hall until they reveal the culprit. A diverse group including parents, artists, religious leaders, and government officials are then asked to comment on the ethics of snitching vs. defying authority. In Kiarostami's hands, this set-up becomes much more than a lesson on classroom misbehavior. Begun in the last days of the Shah's regime and completed in the early stage of the revolution, it provides a fascinating cross-section of a society in transition.
Preceded by SOLUTION (1978, 12 min.), a lyrical change of pace involving spectacular mountain scenery, a stranded motorist, and his amazing tire, and TOOTHACHE (1980, 27 min.), which combines a dental-hygiene lecture with depictions of a young boy's distress that Godfrey Cheshire (Conversations with Kiarostami) calls "incredibly funny." All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
2001, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 88 min.
- Fri, Oct 11th 6:00pm
- Mon, Oct 14th 8:00pm
“What is on screen, above all, is life.”—A.O. Scott. The New York Times
“Consistently engaged and engaging…cinema that bravely takes its audience beyond a blinding conception-plagued veil and into a realm of simple, glorious truth.”—Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine
Invited by an agency of the United Nations to make a documentary calling attention to the plight of orphans in Uganda, Kiarostami fulfilled the task with seeming uninflected directness, yet his images perceive more than the commissioners might have imagined. The crew’s role as outsiders is implicit in the film’s self-referential method, but unvarnished emotion, nuances of physical and spiritual suffering, and the irrepressible joy of living speak to the camera without a filter. Characteristically, the director interprets this nation through its smallest and most powerless citizens, whether a dying boy in a bare clinic, or a child being carried away by new adoptive parents. In Persian and English with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2002, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran , 93 min.
With Mania Akbari, Amin Maher
- Sat, Oct 12th 3:00pm
- Wed, Oct 16th 8:00pm
"A work of inspired simplicity...a movie whose greatest virtue is its wry, compassionate precision."—A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“The ultimate lesson in less-is-more cinema…brilliant, almost symphonic.”—Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
In a trademark strategy, taking the front seat of an SUV as the film’s sole location, Kiarostami conjures up an astonishing range of emotions and stories in the course of ten encounters between the car’s nameless female driver (actress and video artist Akbari) and the passengers she picks up while navigating the streets of Tehran. A testy leg of the journey with the divorced mother’s sullen and accusatory ten-year-old son (Maher, Akbari’s own son) in the front seat gives the driver a backstory of sorts, but the compressed space paradoxically creates distance rather than intimacy. A succession of passengers including the woman’s sister (newly jilted by her fiancé), a devout elderly woman en route to a shrine, and a prostitute represent touchingly subtle studies in female alienation. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
10 on Ten
2004, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 88 min.
- Sat, Oct 12th 5:00pm
“A self-contained master class on cinema…inspiring and liberating.”—Deborah Young, Variety
Iran’s most honored filmmaker returns to the location of A TASTE OF CHERRY for a revealing documentary on himself. Driving the twisting mountain roads that have figured so significantly in his work, Kiarostami uses the intimacy of the front seat of his SUV to create the illusion of a one-on-one conversation with his audience. Holding forth on the methods and philosophy behind a body of work that ranges from early documentaries like HOMEWORK to his recent TEN, the director reveals a glimmer of ironic humor, especially in his concluding commentary on the influence of American cinema. In Persian with English voiceover. DCP digital. (BS)
2008, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 97 min.
With Juliette Binoche, Niki Karimi, Golshifteh Farahani
- Fri, Oct 18th 6:00pm
- Mon, Oct 21st 8:00pm
“A feast for the bedazzled eye and a crash course in narrative obsession.”—Ronnie Scheib, Variety
“A bold experiment.”—Stuart Crawford, Eye for Film
Kiarostami proves once again his skill as a master illusionist in a film that joins 10 ON TEN and FIVE (FOR OZU) in his body of experimental work. Staged as if it were a documentary of an audience watching a film that features the narration of a 12th-century Persian epic poem on the soundtrack, SHIRIN is composed of close-ups of 112 Iranian actresses and French actress Juliette Binoche, as reactions to the spectacle on the screen before them flicker across their faces. SHIRIN functions as both a marvelous lesson in the artifice of cinema and as a meditation on the captivating power of woman. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
2010, Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Iran, 106 min.
With Juliette Binoche, William Shimell
- Sat, Oct 19th 3:00pm
- Wed, Oct 23rd 6:00pm
“Resplendently heady yet nimble.”—Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
“A flawless riff on our indigenous art cinema.”—J. Hoberman, Village Voice
“Audacious and radical.”—Scott Tobias, NPR
Kiarostami makes a daring foray into new territory with this puzzle of a love story that garnered universal critical raves. The seemingly make-believe relationship of a flirtatious French antiques dealer and an English author begs the question of authenticity when she invites him for a day of sightseeing in an idyllic Italian village famous as a wedding destination. As they alternately court and bicker with mounting emotional heat, Kiarostami dangles a host of maddening clues that there is much more to this story than meets the eye. In English, French, and Italian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
Ahmad Kiarostami, film producer and son of Abbas Kiarostami, is scheduled to appear for audience discussion on Wednesday.
1977, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 110 min.
With Kurosh Afsharpanah, Shohreh Agdashloo
- Sat, Oct 19th 5:15pm
“A stellar film…plays into Kiarostami’s fascination with life itself.”—Steven Flores, Surrender to the Void
Producing this realistic drama on the brink of Iran’s 1979 revolution, Kiarostami ran afoul of the Shah’s censors. Mohammad (Afsharpanah), a mid-level civil servant and tax auditor, is accused of taking bribes. His subsequent job suspension is only the least in an undertow of problems that include a crumbling marriage and an overriding sense of ennui. While his wife (Agdashloo) chafes at her restricted life with a demanding child, Mohammad passes the time with male buddies in restless rounds of drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The film’s ominous sense that something in this society is coming to a head is underlined by a shockingly brutal incident of spousal abuse and a suicide attempt. In Persian with English subtitles. Digital video. (BS)
2017, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France, 119 min.
- Fri, Oct 25th 3:45pm
- Mon, Oct 28th 6:00pm
“Teeming with life’s magic and mysteries…the work of a truly distinctive artist, and to be cherished as a last gift to us.”—Geoff Andrews, Sight & Sound
“A stunning and majestic Kiarostami statement about love, cinema, death, technology, censorship, and the 21st century…It is moving, it is cosmic, it is sublime.”—Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Completed posthumously, Kiarostami’s final film is a simple but profound work composed of twenty-four short film sequences based around his own photographs and one Bruegel painting. His subtle method begs the question whether these images are true to life or the sly digital sleight of hand of a master magician. Kiarostami’s love of snowy landscapes, the sea, and his fascination with the unsentimental drama of nature bring home the intelligence and patient vision of the artist behind the camera in two-dozen contemplative mini-dramas. Horses frolic in a skittish mating dance in a snow-covered field; a cow sleeps on a beach at dusk amid swelling waves; a feral cat traps squabbling blackbirds; feisty crows flit ominously; and more, composing a vibrant meditation on life in all of its mysterious forms and trajectories. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Like Someone in Love
2012, Abbas Kiarostami, France/Japan, 109 min.
With Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno
- Sat, Oct 26th 3:00pm
- Wed, Oct 30th 6:00pm
“Sinuous and beguiling…an elegant mystery that resonates beyond its final, jolting moment.”—Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times
“Gorgeously acted by all…craftsmanship is so high, it makes everything else currently in theaters look slovenly.”—Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
One night and day in the life of a Tokyo college student moonlighting as a call girl becomes a cinematic hall of mirrors in Kiarostami’s hands, working once again in an international mode following his hit CERTIFIED COPY. Sent to a high-level elderly client, Akiko finds his request for conversation and dinner rather than sex beyond her abilities. Intentions are ambiguous when the old man, his would-be seductress, and her jealous and impulsive boyfriend become tangled in an emotional triangle distinguished by half-truths and self-serving fiction. In Japanese with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Five (For Ozu)
Five Dedicated to Ozu
2003, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/Japan/France, 78 min.
- Sat, Oct 26th 5:15pm
“Confidence, elegance…deep space, solitude, and wonderment.”—Nathan Lee, New York Sun
“There’s a relaxing, meditative quality that also comes of Ozu’s images.”—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Five hypnotic, exquisitely composed shots of the sea and seashore appear as uninterrupted camera runs, but appearances are highly deceiving, as Kiarostami intends. In this film that now may be interpreted as an experimental precursor to the director’s final feature 24 FRAMES, each sequence was intricately and seamlessly composed from as many as twenty separate shots in order to create the contemplative reality of the artist’s poetic vision. A piece of driftwood rolls in the waves; tourists contemplate the ocean from a walkway; wild dogs nap on the shore; ducks go for a walk; and the sounds of frogs and crickets accompany a view of moonlight on water. Without dialogue. DCP digital. (BS)
1974, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 74 min. (Total show: 91 min.)
With Hasan Darabi
"His first masterpiece."—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Abbas Kiarostami
Kiarostami's first full-length feature expands on EXPERIENCE's theme of a disadvantaged boy doggedly pursuing his dream. An indifferent student and a disappointment to his nagging mother, Qasem is a soccer-crazy boy living in the provincial city of Malayer. Determined to attend a big soccer match in Tehran, he hustles, cheats, and steals to raise the necessary funds, then sneaks out to catch the overnight bus to the capitol. One of the director's personal favorites, THE TRAVELER shows the influence of Italian neorealism and the French New Wave, but with a more daring use of "dead time," most effectively in the boy's extended walks through the deserted nighttime streets of his hometown and, later, through the strange new world of Tehran.
Preceded by SO CAN I (1975, 5 min.), in which a schoolboy compares his abilities to the animals', and THE BREAD AND ALLEY (1970, 12 min.), Kiarostami's first film, about a boy intimidated by a stray dog. All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
Where is the Friend's House?
Khaneh-ye dust kojast?
1987, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 84 min.
With Babak Ahmadpour, Ahmad Ahmadpour
“As refreshing and exciting as discovering an Orson Welles or Jean Renoir film for the first time. He’s that good.”—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Set in the mountain village of Koker in northern Iran, WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE? is a tale of two boys and a problem. Eight-year-old Ahmad discovers that he has accidentally taken home the notebook of his friend, who risks expulsion if he comes to school without having done his homework. Refining a model of the narrative quest that resonates through Iranian cinema to this day, Kiarostami follows the boy in a frantic trek through a neighboring village in search of his friend’s home. In Ahmad’s small world, narrowly defined by his harried mother, his rigidly authoritarian teacher, and adult villagers dismissive of a child’s dilemma, the little boy becomes the film’s moral center as he earnestly pursues his mission undeterred. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
Tajrobeh / aka The Experience
1973, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 57 min. (Total show: 89 min.)
With Hassan Yar-Mohamadi
"Lyrical…one of the few remarkable portrayals of adolescent love in the entire history of Iranian cinema."—Ramin S. Khanjani, "Early Kiarostami: Poetry in Didacticism"
Scripted by fellow director Amir Naderi (THE RUNNER), EXPERIENCE centers on a lowly 14-year-old errand boy employed by a photography studio. His daily grind, detailed in terse, evocative episodes, is brightened when he seems to attract the interest of a girl from a higher class. This key early work already displays Kiarostami's distinctive uses of ellipsis, offscreen sound, and self-reflexivity—the latter expressed by the photography-studio setting and the extensive use of frames and windows.
Preceded by THE COLORS (1976, 16 min.), a playful catalogue of colors and the things that represent them, and BREAKTIME (1972, 16 min.), an errant schoolboy's adventure which Kiarostami called "my ideal film. This film is way ahead of TASTE OF CHERRY in terms of form, audacity, avoidance of story-telling, and indeterminate ending." All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
1989, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 78 min.
“A major film by the greatest of all Iranian filmmakers.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Presented as an exercise, a simple documentary inquiry into the problems presented by the after-hours work that children take home from school, HOMEWORK proves to be anything but. Little boys flock around the filmmaker in the street, excited at the prospect of appearing in a movie. The shadow of the Iran-Iraq war looms in the background, and the day begins with a schoolyard assembly in which teachers lead the children in warlike patriotic chants. Inside, the boys are interviewed one by one, variously shy, bold, frightened, merry, or sly. Through Kiarostami’s probing questions and sensitive portraiture, there emerges a touching disconnect between the innocence and helplessness of the kids and the film’s larger picture of an unforgiving system meant to mold them into unquestioning obedience. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
1990, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 98 min.
With Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf
“The meanings of CLOSE-UP shift subtly and profoundly with every viewing—the only certainty is that its rewards are boundless.”—Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
“A brilliant mix of contrivance, intimacy, distance, and dramatic closure peered into like a voyeur.”—Sean Axmaker, Parallax View
An unemployed printer passes himself off to a well-to-do woman on a bus as the Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. She and her gullible family are all too willing to believe that the famous director of THE CYCLIST wants to shoot his next movie at their home, starring their engineer son. This real-life story begins only with the arrest of the pathetic imposter, as Kiarostami plays masterfully with the interface between reenacted reality and fiction. A trial ensues, and the family saves face by claiming to have recognized the ruse all along, as they led the imposter ever deeper into his scheme. Truth becomes a flimsy construct slipping between verifiable fact and intention, and between bluff and heart-rending fantasy. All characters play themselves in a multi-layered reconstruction that draws the audience into a new perception of the unfolding events. In Persian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
1984, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 84 min.
Ostensibly taking place within a single day at a Tehran primary school, Kiarostami's first documentary feature is usually regarded as a predecessor of his later treatment of schoolboys-on-the-spot, HOMEWORK. Except for a brief lyrical interlude involving a bike ride through the city, the film is divided into two spaces, the courtyard and the headmaster's office. The courtyard presents the boys en masse, lining up and performing calisthenics. Juvenile mischief often eludes the orderly discipline represented by the courtyard, and those miscreants are brought before the headmaster, a mostly offscreen presence who metes out justice to the boys squirming under the camera's gaze. Given the political situation of the time, FIRST GRADERS is sometimes interpreted as a commentary on authoritarianism, although the film's view of the headmaster is characteristically ambivalent, even admiring. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (MR)