by Allan Fish
(Iran 2002 93m) DVD1/2
p Abbas Kiarostami d/w Abbas Kiarostami ph Abbas Kiarostami ed Vahid Gazi, Abbas Kiarostami, Bahman Kiarostami m Howard Blake
Mania Akbari (driver), Amin Maher (Amin), Roya Arabshahi, Katayoun Taleidzadeh, Amene Moradi, Mandana Sharbaf, Kamran Idi,
2002 saw two incredible experiments in cinematic form. The first, Sokurov’s Russian Ark, took it to one extreme by recording the entire film onto hard disk in one unbroken take through the halls and corridors of St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum. The other could not have been more different while at the same time so much a kindred spirit film, for both reduced cinematic minimalism to an extreme. 10 was hardly Abbas Kiarostami’s first experiment on those lines, as his earlier works Close Up, The Wind Will Carry Us and A Taste of Cherry were minimalist in themselves, but compared to 10 they are like the cinema of John Woo. The 10 in the title refers to the number of journeys made by a young female taxi driver in present day Tehran over a two day period. That in itself would be minimalist enough, one might think, were it not for the fact that the entire film was shot from two dashboard video cameras looking at the driver and passenger seat, fixed completely on them, aside from one brief shot facing frontwards.
The famous critic Roger Ebert said of Kiarostami’s work that “no ordinary moviegoer, whether Iranian or American, can be expected to relate to his films. They exist for film festivals, film critics and film classes.” On one level I can see where he’s coming from, but frankly that statement is insultingly dismissive. While I agree that Kiarostami took it one step too far in his next film, Five, which I found about as entertaining as watching the polar ice caps melt, 10 is about something and, in its way, is riveting cinema. Furthermore, Mr Ebert’s comment shows a certain self-righteousness and presumption that cannot be healthy. How can any western commentator know what an Iranian audience can get from a film, or indeed any audience but his own, the popcorn crunching masses of the heart of America?
Take the central character, a young woman who we learn from the opening conversation with her young son, is recently divorced and who had to lie in the divorce court to get an out from a loveless marriage. The conversation that follows isn’t merely one about Iranian parenthood, for it’s a conversation many single or divorcee mothers must have had with their children who mourn their absent fathers (though the non-use of seatbelts is another timely reminder). Has there ever been a more realistic depiction of a child’s frustration than her son’s putting his hands over his ears so as not to hear what his mother is increasingly loudly trying to get through to him? She’s just taking him to football after school, much as a mother might do in suburban England, or to Junior League baseball in the US. The added dimension here is that it begins an analysis of the fate of women in Islamic society. Through that entire opening conversation the mother isn’t seen, only heard, as if to emphasise that a man, even when it’s a small boy, always holds centre stage in this world. Rights for women are minimal if indeed existent at all, and at times our young heroine, who generally seems to have the patience of a saint, just hovers on the edge of that most contemporary of complaints, road rage.
Though each of three journeys with her small son are informative, the highlight is perhaps her discussion with an unseen prostitute she gives a lift to. They talk about the hooker’s motivations, to which she just laughs in an acceptance of her lot. It’s all about “sex, love, sex”, and in many ways that encapsulates the state of the modern world, further emphasised when the young son tells his mother his dad has a satellite dish and watches the blocked adult channels at night. Sex is a release from the drudgery of life, a desperate clinging to any form of intimacy in a forever changing world. A world in which, as we are told, “you can’t live without losing.” As Mark Cousins said, 10 was “one of the first great films of the new millennium.” Riveting.