Close-Up ★★★★★

The act of watching films is almost laughable in its strangeness. For a couple of hours we believe that the people onscreen actually exist, and their stories have the power to move us in ways that stories in real life cannot.

Close-Up is about a man who impersonates a director he admires. He carries out in real life the same conceit that films do, except this time nobody knows subconsciously that he's just pretending. There was never a moment when I was sure that I was watching a documentary or a film.

The film eschews all traditional methods of storytelling to focus almost exclusively on brilliant, self-aware dialogue. At the beginning of the film, the impersonator, Hossain Sabzian, asks the director Abbas Kiarostami if he would pass along a message to the director that Sabzian impersonated. "Tell him that The Cyclist is part of me," he says.

There is a caged intensity to his words that makes me believe that this moment was truly genuine. I know exactly what he means by that. I reckon everybody who watches films knows what he means.

One wonders why a man as talented and intelligent as Sabzian (whose real-life self is indistinguishable from his performance) was born into an impoverished background when he clearly has so much to contribute to art and cinema. He has all the magnetism of a great actor.

Then again, am I meant to feel sorry for him? He fooled so many people, after all. Each character is wonderfully grey and complex, not because somebody wrote them that way, but because of the way these real-life people are presented. This is a film that really makes you think and reflect in ways that I previously (naively) assumed that only books could.

Close-Up is an exploration of identity, the class divide, and above all, the way art and cinema affects everybody regardless of their social standing in life. It's a must-watch for anybody who loves films. It's a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

(And the Iranians are so civil! Tell me again why they are portrayed as an angry screaming horde in every second Hollywood film?)