Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Persian
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 22, 2010
Review Date: June 14, 2010
A kind of Iranian variation on Six Degrees of Separation, Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up takes its basic impersonation plot and uses it as the framework for the trial of the man perpetrating the fraud. What’s more, instead of professional actors playing the accused and his victims, the real-life people involved in the crime are reenacting what occurred in a hybrid kind of realistic docudrama that’s alternately creepy and yet also mesmerizing. The director’s tone is rather laid back and definitely non-hyperbolic; still, the people play themselves with conviction, and the story is just as strange as one would expect with its victims and the perpetrator going through their ordeal once again for the cameras.
Quite innocently at first, Iranian ne’er-do-well Hossein Sabzian pretends to be one of Iran’s foremost film directors Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Taking in the family of Abolfazi Ahankhah, he manages to extort 1,900 tomans from them plus free meals and a place to stay while perpetrating his hoax that he’s going to use the family’s palatial home as the setting for his next film with the two sons of the family being cast in major roles in his movie. After catching the thief in a couple of easily proven lies, older son Mehrdad tips off a local tabloid reporter Hassan Farazmand about the fraud, and he brings the police to arrest Hossein who is then put on trial and asked to explain himself.
The film has been aptly titled by writer-director Abbas Kiarostami since he concentrates on close-ups during the movie, especially during the lengthy trial sequences. He’s divided the backstory into several pieces, however, and these interrupt the court proceedings on a regular basis as we see scenes of the hoax to go with the lengthy testimony. The movie is talky, but luckily those flashbacks do vary the excessive use of close-ups by giving us other things to view and ponder. Kiarostami has also filmed the trial quite differently from the remainder of the movie giving it a very harsh, individualistic look that switches up the visuals of the film to give it even more variety. He does have some odd ideas about the minutia he chooses to focus on (an aerosol can rolling down a street, a cab driver, the ill-prepared reporter scurrying around for a tape recorder) all of which seem trivial, time consuming, and focus-pulling.
Since the actors are playing movie versions of their own personalities, perhaps the word “performance” isn’t quite apt, but Hossein Sabzian does emerge as a somewhat pitiable character in the pivotal central part. As the calm, generous, and loving father, Abolfazi Ahankhah makes for a wonderful screen presence. Real-life director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (who, along with this film’s Abbas Kiarostami, constitutes Iran’s two most celebrated helmers) makes a cameo appearance at the film’s conclusion that’s full of high spirits and good cheer.
The film is framed at 1.33:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The courtroom scenes are intentionally blown out with heightened contrast, fuzzy focus, and drab, flat color. Elsewhere, color (with nicely delineated flesh tones) and sharpness are quite exemplary though there are several thin black and white scratches which crop up occasionally throughout the movie and some stray hairs as well. The pale white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 14 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) audio track likely delivers the sound as recorded, but there are volume discrepancies occasionally (this does not refer to the film’s most notorious sequence where the sound truck has trouble picking up the speaking through the lapel mics; the commentary and another bonus feature explain those sound defects were done deliberately by the director to obscure what was being said), and the use of ADR on occasion is very noticeable. However, audio artifacts like hiss, pops, and flutter are not a problem.
The audio commentary by Kiarostami experts Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa is not on the whole very interesting. They make comments on various aspects of the film as being significant or important without explaining why they are and tend to give him the benefit of the doubt in questionable directorial choices instead of criticizing the poor as well as celebrating the good. There are also some gaps when neither commentator has anything to say, but for a film this brief, there shouldn’t have been a problem with content for their commentary.
The Traveler is Abbas Kiarostami’s 1974 film which he considers his first significant feature. This 73 ¼-minute story of an Iranian lad who’ll do just about anything to attend a soccer match in Tehran even though his family doesn’t have the money to get him there is in many ways a more interesting film than Close-Up¸ a kind of Iranian take on The 400 Blows. (Ironically, this is a film that Hossein Sabzian mentions identifying with greatly in Close-Up.) It’s presented in 1.33:1 and 1080i. The video and audio quality of The Traveler is very, very good.
“Close-Up: Long Shot” is a documentary focusing on Hossein Sabzian some six years after the release of Close-Up. Sad and somewhat depressing after the upbeat conclusion on the feature film, this portrait of one of life’s losers runs 43 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
An interview with Abbas Kiarostami finds the director discussing the difficulties and rewards of making Close-Up. This 2009 interview is presented in 1080i and runs for 27 ½ minutes.
“A Walk with Kiarostami” is a 2001 documentary made by filmmaker Jamsheed Akrami who spent two days with the filmmaker talking everything from water, flowers, and roads to poetry, painting, and photography. It runs 31 ½ minutes and is in 1080i.
The enclosed 14-page booklet features a cast and crew list, some color stills from the movie, and an essay about the film and its subjects by critic Godfrey Cheshire.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up has been hailed by many as his best film. I actually prefer the other film in this notable package, the 1974 film The Traveler. Either way, the director’s admirers will find much to like with this set which celebrates his unique national perspective.