CLOSE-UP (نمای نزدیک, Nema-ye Nazdik) directed by Abbas Kiarostami(Iran, 1990)
This movie is a reenactment of a true story in which all the parts are played by the people who were involved in the ‘real life’ events.It tells of a man, Hossein Sabziam, who assumed the identity of popular Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and gained access to a home of the well to do Ahankhahon family on the pretence that he wanted to use the house as the location for his next film.
While it has some of the characteristics of a documentary, the fact that we are not presented with a linear narrative is just one aspect that illustrates that the film should be judged as a work of art rather than as mere reportage.
It begins with a reporter in a taxi on the way to the address where he anticipates a big scoop. In the back of the car are two policemen (“Don’t the police have their own cars?”, asks the cabbie).
The reporter doesn’t know where the house he is looking for is. He asks some passers-by . One old man doesn’t know but offers to sell one of the two live turkeys he is carrying instead. Eventually, they find the address which is in a no through road. “It’s ironic that my big story should be in a dead-end”, comments the journalist.
A bumbling reporter, a bored cab driver and the police as back seat passengers all give the impression that we are about to see a comedy rather than a drama. Yet while there is an element of farce about the plot, any humour is understated.
When Sabziam is exposed as an imposter, he is arrested and tried for fraud. We then see how the film director persuades the judge to allow cameras into the courtroom to show what happens during his subsequent trial.
The main body of the film interspersed with scenes (mainly in close-up) of Sabzian being cross questioned and the circumstances that led to his arrest.
Far from coming over as a man with any evil motives, he is a sad figure who finds solace in art and a love of cinema in particular. He describes how he impersonated Makhmalbaf simply because he identifies so completely with the man’s work, especially a movie called The Cyclist. He comments that he finds greater consolation in these films than praying to Allah or studying the Koran, a statement that I imagine was greeted with some controversy in Iran.
One of the family accuses him of playing the part of a sensitive soul to get the sympathy of the judge – “I’m speaking of my suffering, I’m not acting”, Sabzian maintains and we believe him.
His punishment of a short prison sentence is relatively mild after the family are eventually convinced that he had no ulterior motives beyond wanting to see how it felt to be a somebody, rather than a man with a menial job as a print worker.
When he is released, he is met by the real Makhmalbaf , an encounter that seems to have been set up for the benefit of the movie. If so, it is a justified fabrication as it makes for a touching finale. We see the two men riding on a motorcycle with Sabzian clutching a bunch of flowers which he takes to the Ahankhah’s home as a final apology for what has happened; and the family finally get to meet the real director as an added bonus.
The movie has been acclaimed as a masterpiece by critics. In a Sight & Sound poll it was voted as one of the 50 greatest films of all time. Personally, I wouldn’t rate it so highly although I recognise its integrity and authenticity and there is much to admire the restraint with which Kiarostami presents a story that could have been played for laughs or presented as a cheap melodrama.
The director has been quoted as saying, “We can never get close to the truth except through lying” and therein lies one of his key motivations for making this fine movie.