(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
Documentary • dir. Abbas Kiarostami • 1990 • Iran
With the best will in the world, Professor Darke was a bit of a shit. I’m happy I got a first class film studies degree for all the regular reasons, but I’m happier still that I managed to do so in spite of Professor Darke. You see, all those years ago, he wasn’t really part of the faculty. He was drafted in for a single term to teach a European Cinema class, in place of someone else who evidently couldn’t. He wasn’t a teacher, as the “Professor” I’ve put before his name would suggest. He was (is still, I assume) a professional film critic – suddenly obliged to guide a roomful of hungover 19-year-olds through three months of academia. It wasn’t a task he relished, and many were the withering looks he gave during our weekly seminar. (One time a classmate suggested that subtitles make a film hard to follow. Not the brightest thing to say, granted, but I still shiver to recall the deadly silence of Chris Darke’s response.) Essays were not graded that term. They were torn apart. Mine, not so much – but only because I worked my socks off, refusing to let the bastard beat me.
No, in truth, I loved European Cinema. It was tough, and all the more satisfying for it. Moreover, its films were absolute belters. Including right at the top of that list, Abbas Kiarostami’s you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Close-Up. Constantly and playfully blurring the distinction between fact and fiction, it tells the real-life story of Hussain Sabzian, a poor man who pretends to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a well-known Iranian film director, in order – hopefully – to lead a more fulfilling life. Or else because he’s a crook… This isn’t film as we know it, with its linear narratives, protagonists to root for, and recognizable motivations. It’s idiosyncratic, a puzzle: think again, look closer, listen! And through it all, Kiarostami reminds us, with great and subtle skill, that behind surfaces – and film – there’s always more to discover and enjoy. Lots of movies are called “life-affirming.” This one from Iran, though, is one you might just have missed. Give it a go. There’s a good chance, I reckon, it will fill you full of wonder and joy.