This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
HOLY FREAKING CRAP WHAT A DAMN BRILLIANT MOVE!!!!!
A girl finishes her school day and waits for her mother to pick her up at the usual time. Her mother doesn't show up. The girl attempts to reach home by her own.
AND BAM!!! A MASTERPIECE IS CREATED OUT OF THE BLUE WITH SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED!! OR WAS IT???
The rest of this review reportedly contains incredible, mind-blowing spoilers. I won't say you should proceed with caution. I'd say that if you haven't seen this film, don't proceed at all!
By this time, I am convinced that Kiarostami's absolute greatest masterpiece Close-Up (1990) is one of the most influential films of contemporary cinema. Once again, I am forced to dissect the film with my famous "Level" categorization, because the film is as deep as the ocean.
+ Level 1: The plot statement.- The film introduces the plot's argument, with an iconic little girl whose high-pitched, ear-raping voice is so tender that you actually enjoy in a sadistic way every time she screams and even seems to sing with voice patterns every time she utters dialogue. That doesn't nulify the fact that her acting skills given her age are quite remarkable. The film is patiently shot with the attention to detail of a French Melville crime classic, with no score and an absolutely stunning atmospheric urban environment, noisy, and full of people talking. Panahi's direction is flawless, featuring good performances by the girl and the surrounding citizens, extremely complicated and long, continuous tracking shots with all distances perfectly calculated for not breaking the space-time continuum.
Another important aspect of this level is that Panahi begins to show his denunciation against women in a very intelligent way. The girl, at some point, has to take a bus in her search of home. Buses in Tehran have separate sections for male and female passengers. As she goes to the women section, we hear intentionally planned conversations regarding the marital, extramarital and even legal problems of Iranian women in contemporary society. But the film also transforms us into children, because we never know the reasons of why the girl was left alone. We have the same information that small children have in their limited scope of things, knowledge and financial means. With this child's perspective implanted in the viewer, we are given situations, details and conversations that we would normally ignore as children, but pay attention to as grown moviewatchers. And thank God we do, because there lies the criticism subtext of the film! Does the girl pay attention to that? No. She only spots the interchanged romantic looks of a woman and a man in the bus.
+ Level 2: Meta-film!!!!.- In a fucking mindblowing turn of events, the girl suddenly breaks down and refuses to stop acting in the movie's plot!!! WHAT!!! Director Jafar Panahi, the crew and extras, and the cast is surprised by her reaction. Despite the film's crew attempts to maintain Mina Mohammad Khani in the film, she refuses and drops the film for good!
So... What's next? Well, the film turns out to be about a girl still trying to find her home!! Is that brilliant or what?!
This is one of the most brilliant stunts ever applied in cinematic history because it is stating that the line dividing life and fiction can be extremely thin. Indeed, any art form, including obviously cinema, has the capacity to mirror the ideas, consequences and humanity present in life itself. Finally, the title becomes clear. We were watching a mirror.
The paradox, however, is in the fact that the crew managed to insert a mic somewhere in the clothes of Mina, who is still looking for her home, and the crew stalks her during the rest of her journey in an attempt to finish the "film". The filmmaking style therefore changes to a documentary style entirely consisting in close-ups (heh) and tracking shots that result in an incredibly vivid journey through the streets of Tehran. And I'm not done...
+ Level 3: The entire film being watched.- But, this is still a film, right? It is. It is very important to note this because, in Level 2, discussions about chauvinistic remarks referring the lack of marital and social liberty that women have in Iran are still present, most notably during a taxi scene in which the driver states that the place of women belongs only in the act of housekeeping, an activity that men should not do for the sake of "solidarity". We are still watching a film, pretending to have documentary fragments, yes, but at the end of the day, we are still in the realm of fiction, even if, by this point, the fact that the film is stating that reality and fiction are prefectly interchangeable regarding sociocultural aspects has been spoken.
So, Jafer Panahi made a film about a film gone wrong, although it is still a film under control in terms of the Level 3 realm.
+ Level 4: The actual making of the film.- Jafer Panahi orchestrated everything. How was the entire film done? That's visually unavailable to the viewer, unless the viewer has access to behind-the-scenes footage. Everything is a real product at the end of the day.
The fact that Mina was still being filmed after her refusal to keep acting in the "film" is Panahi's brilliant idea to find a vehicle that takes his social statements to a whole new level, unreachable to most directors. Just like he is commenting on the current state of women in Iran, Mina being filmed symbolizes that men are still trying to execute their power over women to finish everything that they want. This message is, naturally, of universal value.
So, a seeming film about a girl trying to reach home becomes, simultaneously, a) a strong, discreetly disguised commentary about the deprivation of equality conditions in the lives of Iranian women in contemporary society, focused mostly on marital affairs, and b) another brilliant exploration of the capabilities of the meta-film technique to combine levels of reality and meta-reality into a single product that mirrors life with cinema.