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Joel Mayward

Film Club August 2016: Ten (Kiarostami)

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For this month, I chose Abbas Kiarostami's 2002 film Ten. In light of the loss of one of cinema's great directors, as well as the current tumultuous political climate and the perception of Muslims, exploring an Iranian film centered on the plight and turmoil of ordinary people feels appropriate. I recently came back from a short-term mission trip (if that's what one could call it) from Dearborn, MI, where the largest concentrated population of Muslims in America reside. We took a group of high school teenagers to listen and learn, to extend a hand and love our Muslim neighbors in Christ. It was an eye-opening experience for me, mostly revealing how ignorant I am of others' cultural and religious practices, as well as how complex and tenuous the Muslim/Christian relationship has been throughout history.

Ten is a compilation of ten scenes from the perspective of two cameras mounted on the dashboard of a car. Each scene begins with a new passenger entering the car, driven by an unnamed driver portrayed by Iranian actress and director Mania Akbari. The rest of the cast are mainly non-professionals and also remain mostly unnamed, apart from her son Amin, played by Akbari's real-life son. Episodic and intimate, the film gives the viewer privy to the drama and tension of everyday life in Iran, particularly from a woman's perspective--apart from Amin, all of the passengers are female.

Watching the film, I was reminded both of Farhadi's A Separation and Jafar Panahi's TaxiTen feels like a precursor to both of those films, and makes me wonder if either Farhadi or Panahi had Kiarostami in mind when crafting their own stories. I'm relatively new to Kiarostami--I'd only seen Certified Copy and Close-Up before Ten. Those films also explored the question What is truth? through enigmatic and experimental forms, but Ten is the most accessible and straightforward of the films I've seen. A theme worth noting and exploring is the difference between selfishness and self-differentiation, and how one's cultural and religious beliefs inform the boundaries between those two postures.

Kiarostami filmed a follow-up documentary to Ten called 10 on Ten, which played at Cannes in 2004 (you can find it on Fandor or in sections on YouTube). Mania Akbari, the main character in Ten, also made her own sequel of sorts, called 10 + 4, which seems to use the same dashboard camera premise, but the main character is also suffering from cancer, and eventually ends up a passenger, unable to continue driving the vehicle (I can't find the film online, but here's an essay describing the film's approach). 

I'll wait for further posts and observations to emerge before revealing more of my own perspective of Ten, but here are a few questions and ideas to consider as you watch:

1. What is happening in the background, outside the car? Does it matter, or is the focus/reality of the film only within this car's interior?

2. The unnamed driver takes on postures of both speaker and listener--which seems more comfortable for her?

3. Is this film pro-marriage or anti-marriage? (I just watched The Lobster this weekend, and one could ask the same question of that film.)

Here are some helpful links:

IMDB.

Streaming on Amazon Prime.

Streaming on Fandor.

Roger Ebert's two-star review, noted by Brian D in the other thread, with a relevant quote which could prompt discussion:

Quote

Anyone could make a movie like "Ten." Two digital cameras, a car and your actors, and off you go. Of course much would depend on the actors, what they said, and who they were playing (the little actor playing Amin is awesomely self-confident and articulate on the screen, and effortlessly obnoxious). But if this approach were used for a film shot in Europe or America, would it be accepted as an entry at Cannes? I argue that it would not. Part of Kiarostami's appeal is that he is Iranian, a country whose films it is somewhat daring to praise. Partly, too, he has a lot of critics invested in his cause, and they do the heavy lifting. The fatal flaw in his approach is 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.

A&F thread on Kiarostami's passing.

A&F thread on Iranian cinema.

Update: Currently streaming on Mubi, but only for the next 3 days.

Ten_DVD.jpg

Edited by Joel Mayward

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NBooth   

Before Ten, the only Kiarostami I had seen was Like Someone in Love. I found that movie lovely, moving, and somewhat opaque; I have it on DVD, but haven't really felt the need to revisit it. 

Ten is...well, as with Ryan, this movie isn't in my wheelhouse, so I'm not quite sure what I made of it. The opening scene was an interesting exercise: if I recall, the driver isn't revealed until the end of that scene, with the camera focusing on her son the whole time. And it's just him--talking, yelling, listening. And yet, it's a dynamic scene: the viewer's sympathies--at least, my own sympathies as a viewer--are constantly pulled back and forth. Sometimes the boy seems like the reasonable one; other times, it's the mother. As the movie develops, I think some--though not all--of that tension is lost, since we wind up spending our time with the mother. When the boy shows up again and starts arguing, he seems substantially less reasonable (which, he's a boy, so that would be expected).

The protagonist herself is complicated. On the one hand, she obviously lives in an area where women are treated badly, and her son's treatment of her shows how these attitudes pass down to children. On the other hand, she can be remarkably unsympathetic towards some of her passengers--I'm thinking particularly of the woman whose boyfriend abandoned her. 

On the whole, I just don't know how I feel about the movie. I can recognize its uniqueness and even its skill, but I need to meditate on whether I liked it.

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10 hours ago, Ryan H. said:

This isn't really in my wheelhouse, so I'll be interested to see what I make of it. I'll hopefully be able to catch it on Friday.

Ryan, I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I've found that our interests and takes on a film are usually the opposite, but I always appreciate and value your perspective, even when it's very different my own. So I'll be very intrigued to hear your thoughts on Ten. :)

2 hours ago, NBooth said:

The opening scene was an interesting exercise: if I recall, the driver isn't revealed until the end of that scene, with the camera focusing on her son the whole time. And it's just him--talking, yelling, listening. And yet, it's a dynamic scene: the viewer's sympathies--at least, my own sympathies as a viewer--are constantly pulled back and forth. Sometimes the boy seems like the reasonable one; other times, it's the mother. As the movie develops, I think some--though not all--of that tension is lost, since we wind up spending our time with the mother. When the boy shows up again and starts arguing, he seems substantially less reasonable (which, he's a boy, so that would be expected).

Scene #10 and #1 are an interesting contrast, both in length and in one's perspective on both the boy and his mother. I found the opening scene to be almost emotionally draining, a drawn-out verbal brawl that feels like we've voyeurs to a very personal familial dispute. But by the end, we've learned a great deal more about both the boy and the mother, and scene #1 (the final scene) doesn't need to be long or drawn out; it ends quite abruptly, almost leaving us hanging, but still felt satisfying to me. In terms of character arcs, the mother seems to become more sympathetic and able to both take the verbal punches and hold back on her retaliation over the course of the film, while the boy doesn't exactly mature much in his stance or response. The boy's concerns still feel valid by the end, but my empathy for the woman--and for all the women--grew substantially by scene #1.

The word "opaque" has been used in our threads regarding Kiarostami twice now, and I'd agree with this assessment of his other films. But I'm not sure I could describe Ten as "opaque." Some of the threads and relationships remained a mystery--e.g. we're still not entirely sure why the driver left her husband or if her reasonings are entirely valid--but on the whole, I didn't get the sense of mystery or obscurity like I did with Certified Copy or Close-Up.

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NBooth   
On 8/2/2016 at 8:06 PM, Joel Mayward said:

The word "opaque" has been used in our threads regarding Kiarostami twice now, and I'd agree with this assessment of his other films. But I'm not sure I could describe Ten as "opaque." Some of the threads and relationships remained a mystery--e.g. we're still not entirely sure why the driver left her husband or if her reasonings are entirely valid--but on the whole, I didn't get the sense of mystery or obscurity like I did with Certified Copy or Close-Up.

I think I largely agree with you, there--though I can see someone finding Ten opaque because of its style. Which isn't to say that it's stylistically opaque so much as that it shows too much (an odd comment for a setup with only two shots!); because the pacing of the scene is entirely based on how we read the actors themselves--with little directorial intervention to guide us toward what's important (and this in spite of the fact that there are frequent, obvious cuts), I can see this movie being a very frustrating experience. Certainly, was frustrated at points, muttering at the characters to just shut up and get on with it.

[And this is a failure on my part, I'm sure, but by the time I got to the last twenty minutes or so I was pretty thoroughly tired of the movie and was hoping it would end sooner rather than later. In retrospect, mind, it's not nearly so tedious--but in the moment I certainly experienced tedium, which may well be part of the point of the movie. Which is to say, I suppose, that I agree with Ebert that this movie is much more enjoyable to think/talk about than it is to actually watch] 

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Evan C   

As I said in the other thread, before this, I had seen four Kiarostami films (Certified Copy, Close-Up, Like Someone in Love, and Taste of Cherry). I thought Certified Copy and Taste of Cherry were incredible - as in, it took me a little while to warm up to them, but by the time they ended, I wanted to start them over instantly. I found Close-Up technically dazzling, but emotionally distant, and Like Someone in Love very good and very thought provoking, but lacking the emotional connect and more importantly the sense of mystery which permeated Certified and Cherry.

Like Like Someone in Love, (probably the only time I'll be able to type "like" twice in a row) there's no sense of mystery here, and it's a very thought provoking exercise in film making. What most struck me was the tension of each discussion seemed to correlate directly to the placement of the camera. When the camera cut back and forth between the two people in the car, the conversation seemed more relaxed, even if the subject matter became tense or passionate. When the camera focused on one person through the duration of the scene (#10 with the son, and #7 with the prostitute) I found there to be a notable increase in tension. In both those scenes, the camera remains on the person who is overall less sympathetic to the other's life choices. The son despises his mother's decision to divorce, and his mother clearly looks down on the prostitute, even as she remains polite, which I think Kiarostami was using to suggest the discrimination against women cuts both ways. Of course, we don't see the old woman in #8 either, and that's one of the shortest and most pleasant interactions in the movie, so I'm not sure what that does to my thesis.

As to the two intervals with her sister (#9 and #4), there is clearly a huge degree of familiarity and freedom between them. They talk openly about her son, their marriages in #9, and then she feels confident enough to berate her sister in #4 about crying over a man who left her. However, the freedom of the camera and the normalcy of the editing in those segments (especially #4) suggested to me that the openness and equality between those two women is what's most notable, even if their behavior (or more accurately the driver's behavior) is less than admirable. However, those scenes do suggest the strain for women to live in a society where a woman's status is entirely determined by the men she's related to, and it seems both of them are reacting to that.

I also noticed that the first five scenes all have a siren pass by at some point. In the sixth scene (#5), she drives past a firetruck, and then after that, there are no more signs of emergency vehicles. I think it is possible to read some symbolism into that, perhaps a suggestion that these relationships are reaching a crisis point, and once that is ignored for too long, they boil over. That's especially apparent if you think about #5, the most pleasant interaction with her son, and #3 when he is the most obnoxious. Or maybe, the sirens were just coincidence based on where they were driving while filming.

The young woman she drives to the mausoleum twice provides the most perspective, and it seems she has the most positive influence on the protagonist, convincing her that fighting with her son is not worthwhile, and that she shouldn't be afraid to live her life. The unveiling scene is very on the nose, but I thought the moment worked overall.

If anyone wants a reference/memory point, the order is:

10. Son
9. Sister
8. Old Woman
7. Prostitute
6. Young Woman
5. Son
4. Sister
3. Son
2. Young Woman
1. Son

Edited by Evan C

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On 8/4/2016 at 5:46 AM, NBooth said:

I think I largely agree with you, there--though I can see someone finding Ten opaque because of its style. Which isn't to say that it's stylistically opaque so much as that it shows too much (an odd comment for a setup with only two shots!); because the pacing of the scene is entirely based on how we read the actors themselves--with little directorial intervention to guide us toward what's important (and this in spite of the fact that there are frequent, obvious cuts), I can see this movie being a very frustrating experience. Certainly, was frustrated at points, muttering at the characters to just shut up and get on with it.

[And this is a failure on my part, I'm sure, but by the time I got to the last twenty minutes or so I was pretty thoroughly tired of the movie and was hoping it would end sooner rather than later. In retrospect, mind, it's not nearly so tedious--but in the moment I certainly experienced tedium, which may well be part of the point of the movie. Which is to say, I suppose, that I agree with Ebert that this movie is much more enjoyable to think/talk about than it is to actually watch] 

This is interesting, because I felt the tedium and frustration you're talking about with Panahi's Taxi--a very similar film in concept--but didn't with Ten,which is less dynamic than Taxi in terms of camera placement. (I prefer Ten over Taxi, especially because the seemingly unique concept of Taxi isn't really *that* unique if Kiarostami did it already in 2002.) I think this film gives the experience of being a passenger overhearing very intimate conversations, an exercise which can be either fascinating or underwhelming, depending on the level of interest one places in listening to that conversation.

One thing Ebert also says in the quote above is that this film couldn't be done in America. If Gus Van Sant or Richard Linklater or Steven Soderbergh made a dashboard camera film, would we find it as compelling or creative, a Cannes-worthy effort?

12 hours ago, Evan C said:

I also noticed that the first five scenes all have a siren pass by at some point. In the sixth scene (#5), she drives past a firetruck, and then after that, there are no more signs of emergency vehicles. I think it is possible to read some symbolism into that, perhaps a suggestion that these relationships are reaching a crisis point, and once that is ignored for too long, they boil over. That's especially apparent if you think about #5, the most pleasant interaction with her son, and #3 when he is the most obnoxious. Or maybe, the sirens were just coincidence based on where they were driving while filming.

I noticed the sirens as well, and I assumed they were intentional, alluding to the emergency/crisis of both the conversations within the vehicle, as well as the general daily existence of women in Iran. This is partly what inspired my first question above, about the difference between the reality inside the car and outside of it. The sirens are coming from outside, and I initially wondered if they are simply traffic noise. Yet their presence in multiple scenes either indicates that sirens are normative in urban Iran (i.e. they couldn't be avoided in filming) or that Kiarostami wants us to notice something about the urgency of these conversations.

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I typically stay away from films like Ten. I like strong authorial voices and I like stylistic expressionism steeped in cinematic artifice. 

Ten plays like an observational documentary. It is driven by the complexity of the human face and the nuances of vocal expression, and the questions that emerge are the ambiguities of everyday life. It finds intensity and momentum in this glimpse of human psychology and relationships, and the ways that humans carve out identities in a cultural landscape.

Edited by Ryan H.

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On 8/9/2016 at 11:19 AM, Joel Mayward said:

If Gus Van Sant or Richard Linklater or Steven Soderbergh made a dashboard camera film, would we find it as compelling or creative, a Cannes-worthy effort?

Maybe. Let's not forget Locke, which met with critical praise.

It depends on what dramatic tensions the filmmakers explored in the conversations. A film like Ten succeeds because the conversations are genuinely revealing. I can imagine an American filmmaker achieving that much.

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Ryan H. wrote:
: Maybe. Let's not forget Locke, which met with critical praise.

I wouldn't call that a "dashboard camera" film. It takes place almost entirely in a car, yes, but aesthetically it's very different from this film.

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9 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Ryan H. wrote:
: Maybe. Let's not forget Locke, which met with critical praise.

I wouldn't call that a "dashboard camera" film. It takes place almost entirely in a car, yes, but aesthetically it's very different from this film.

Oh, I wouldn't deny that. It's a much more polished, and artificial, film than the very naturalistic Ten.

But it nevertheless adds some credence to the notion that an American or European filmmaker could feasibly do something similar to Ten and receive praise for it.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Brian D   

One of the things I most enjoy about watching Kiarostami is that, no matter how many times I see his films, I feel they always put me on a journey to solving the Kiarostami mystery:

 

 

Who is this director?  What exactly is he up to in the work he does?  How does it relate to Iran?  How does it relate to spiritual truth?  Will I ever get a handle on him? 

 

 

With many directors, solving such a mystery could become tedious.  With Kiarostami, it’s usually a pleasure.  Part of the pleasure is that I sense the director is playfully solving the mystery along with us. 

 

 

Ten is no exception to this, although this film had more distractions from the pleasure than usual.  I won’t major on the distractions, because I think some of them come from some awkward subtitling/translation that may be external to the film itself. 

 

 

I really like modern short stories, especially in the way they build to significant truths by way of quiet interludes and subtle details.  I often enjoy the way they use strange and inventive forms to achieve that goal.  My favorite thing aboutTen is the way it functions very much like those kinds of short stories. 

 

 

We begin disoriented and off guard with the long opening fight between mother and son.  Then we are surprised that the ensuing scenes begin to primarily tell the story of the mother.  They tell that story through the series of interactions with the guests in the car, and this process has a literary richness that refutes charges of this being a gimmick film. 

 

 

Part of the richness here comes from the fact that there are other parallel stories being told at the same time as the mother’s story.  There is the story of the “mausoleum truth-seekers”.  There is the story of the prostitute and the slow revealing of who she is despite the fact we barely see her.  There is the story of the Scene 6 & 2 woman and her veil, and how what she hides beneath it seems to suggest a story deeper still.  And of course there is the story of modern Iran and its people.

 

 

For me, this journey to “solve the mystery” of Kiarostami hit its peak with Certified Copy.  I couldn’t find the thread, but I recall M Leary saying something about how CC is like a key to Kiarostami’s other films because it shows that they are all really about love.  (Marriage may be on Kiarostami’s mind, but I bet he himself would widen the scope of discussion to love in general.)

 

 

Love.  That brings us back around again to Ten, which rings quite consistently with the theme of emotional connectedness and the driver’s seeming lack in this area.  She is driving around and talking to people.  But is she connecting with any of them?  Does she even want to connect with them?  Is she ready to love them in a meaningful way, or will she just drive and drive in smaller and smaller circles until she is only circling around herself?

 

 

 

 

Added note : I’m surprised at Ebert’s aversion to this director, as it is not quite consistent with Ebert’s typical taste.  Ebert usually enjoyed form-breaking cinema…and I’m not sure he always concerned himself that much with how the “ordinary moviegoer” could be expected to relate to those kinds of films.  If he had applied the same logic to Synecdoche, New York, for example, he wouldn’t have named that the best film of its decade. J I suspect he would have gone on a different tack with this director if he had seen Close-Up and Certified Copy before any of the others.   In any case, I’m convinced the ordinary moviegoer can relate to Ten at least in the question of the driver and how she connects with other people.

Edited by Brian D

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On 8/10/2016 at 10:41 AM, Ryan H. said:

Maybe. Let's not forget Locke, which met with critical praise.

It depends on what dramatic tensions the filmmakers explored in the conversations. A film like Ten succeeds because the conversations are genuinely revealing. I can imagine an American filmmaker achieving that much.

While I agree with Peter that Locke's aesthetic is quite different from this, I also agree that the success of Ten lies in its sincerity and moments of revelation. So Ebert's critique doesn't sit well with me. Sure, there's something unique about seeing an Iranian filmmaker take this approach--Panahi's Taxi works well primarily due to his position in Iran, being banned from filmmaking and having to do something creatively subversive--but dismissing the film because "anybody could do that" doesn't give enough credit to the director or his intent. While it may feel like two cameras were placed in a car and the people told to just talk, the editing choices and structure of the film reveal a narrative arc behind the conversations, especially focused on the female driver. She's a different woman by conversation #1, and we also know far more about her due to the way the film is told. Conversation #2 couldn't be conversation #4 or #7; the order matters.

Ryan, when you say you enjoy "strong authorial voices," it sounds like you didn't think Kiarostami's voice came through in this film. Am I interpreting that correctly? Because this does feel like a Kiarostami film to me--it's a mysterious-yet-revealing pseudo-documentary film set almost entirely within conversations in or around a car, ultimately blending fiction and non-fiction, asking the viewer to consider what is "real" and what isn't within the film's construct.

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9 hours ago, Brian D said:

She is driving around and talking to people.  But is she connecting with any of them?  Does she even want to connect with them?  Is she ready to love them in a meaningful way, or will she just drive and drive in smaller and smaller circles until she is only circling around herself?

This is a significant question the film raises, and is related to my opening question about self-differentiation vs. selfishness. The driver brings up the notion of self often, stating that she's simply trying to be herself, to take ownership of herself and not be owned by anyone, to even have a sense of self to begin with. To paraphrase Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve, self-differentiation is the capacity to be one's own integrated person while still belonging to a larger colony or community. It's the capacity to know and be oneself while in relationship with others, without either disconnecting from community (isolation) or being absorbed into the community and losing one's sense of self. I'd argue that Ten explores the driver's movement towards self-differentiation over the course of the film, but it's unclear whether she arrives by the final conversation.

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NBooth   
8 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

[D]ismissing the film because "anybody could do that" doesn't give enough credit to the director or his intent. While it may feel like two cameras were placed in a car and the people told to just talk, the editing choices and structure of the film reveal a narrative arc behind the conversations, especially focused on the female driver. She's a different woman by conversation #1, and we also know far more about her due to the way the film is told. Conversation #2 couldn't be conversation #4 or #7; the order matters.

I'm generally suspicious of arguments against a work on the basis that "anybody could do that" because, often, these charges are leveled against things that "anybody could do" but that nobody actually has (a line that, now that I think about it, I almost certainly stole from someone, somewhere). Now, I'm not familiar enough with the tradition of single-setup filmmaking to argue much about where Ten fits in that lineage, but that's where the rest of your comment comes into play. This is a carefully-crafted piece of work. It's not a collection of single-take scenes; the conversations have been edited in obvious ways, both in cutting back and forth between the conversation-partners and at places (particularly with the boy) where the camera is staying on one person for an extended period. And, as you say, the order of conversations is carefully built to reveal a character-arc (though, re: your last comment, it would be interesting to see what happened if the conversations were moved around. It might muddle the film, or something else might emerge from it. But since the scenes are more or less self-contained, the movie wouldn't necessarily resist such tinkering).

Edited by NBooth

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8 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

Ryan, when you say you enjoy "strong authorial voices," it sounds like you didn't think Kiarostami's voice came through in this film.

Yes and no. Conceptually, this is very much a Kiarostami film. 

Formally, however, it doesn't bear a signature. The directorial voice takes a backseat here. The performances and words take center stage.

Edited by Ryan H.

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23 minutes ago, NBooth said:

(though, re: your last comment, it would be interesting to see what happened if the conversations were moved around. It might muddle the film, or something else might emerge from it. But since the scenes are more or less self-contained, the movie wouldn't necessarily resist such tinkering).

Ooh! I would be very intrigued to see what might result from such tinkering.

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2 hours ago, Ryan H. said:

Ooh! I would be very intrigued to see what might result from such tinkering.

Y'know, I think I assume that the order of the conversations is in chronological order--conversations #9 happens later in time than conversation #10--but that may not necessarily be the case. Conversation #8 and #7, with the older woman and the prostitute, could have occurred at any time. The conversations with the driver's son and sister appear to be in chronological order, as does the conversation with the younger woman who eventually removes her veil. But conversations #1 and #10 could switch places while retaining the film's integrity, but would dramatically shift the tone of the whole narrative. I know this is all speculative and intruding on Kiarostami's intent--he edited these scenes in this way for a reason--but it's an interesting mental exercise. Just like Ebert affirms. :)

2 hours ago, Ryan H. said:

Yes and no. Conceptually, this is very much a Kiarostami film. 

Formally, however, it doesn't bear a signature. The directorial voice takes a backseat here. The performances and words take center stage.

Yeah, this makes sense. I can get behind this statement.

I'm still curious to hear from those who've seen it: is this a pro-marriage or anti-marriage film? Or something in between?

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Something in-between. Like Certified Copy, the film is exploring the tensions of human relationships, not about taking a pro or con stance. It's descriptive.

Insofar as it explores the nature of marriage in Iran, it paints an unflattering picture. But it does not deny the complex yearnings that lead human beings toward the institution of marriage.

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Evan C   

Beyond saying that a husband and wife should be equals in a marriage, I don't think it takes a stance on being pro-marriage or anti-marriage.

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Brian D   

About the arrangement: the opener is the longest, while the closer is the shortest.  I didn't time things, but are the other scenes arranged in order of longest to shortest?

I would tend to agree with the last couple of comments on the pro or anti-marriage question.  Kiarostami is the type of director who seems to work so much in "indefinite" realms that it would be hard to imagine him clearly trying to do "pro-marriage" or "anti-marriage" in a film.  I think he is much more the type to show the tensions between the two poles than embrace one of the poles.  In fact, Certified Copy takes the baffling but endlessly fascinating approach of leaving it open-ended about whether the main characters are married or not.  CC seems to be the movie Kiarostami would make if someone asked him direclty if he was pro or anti-marriage. :)  What do you think?, it seems he would say!

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Brian D   

Followup to Joel's pro and anti-marriage question:  I wonder if Joel meant to ask what the film seems to think of the main character's 2 decisions regarding marriage : (A) To get a divorce from her husband and (B) to not marry her current partner.  Joel, is that a decent rephrasing of what you were looking for in your question about whether the film is pro or anti-marriage?  Putting the question in these more specific terms makes it more up for discussion and more "answerable".  Not as if I have the answer, however! I'd have to think on it.

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On 8/19/2016 at 11:16 AM, Brian D said:

Followup to Joel's pro and anti-marriage question:  I wonder if Joel meant to ask what the film seems to think of the main character's 2 decisions regarding marriage : (A) To get a divorce from her husband and (B) to not marry her current partner.  Joel, is that a decent rephrasing of what you were looking for in your question about whether the film is pro or anti-marriage?  Putting the question in these more specific terms makes it more up for discussion and more "answerable".  Not as if I have the answer, however! I'd have to think on it.

Yes, I think that begins to get at the heart of the question. I admit, it's intentionally worded as a false dichotomy, as the film isn't overt in its stance on marriage. The question arose as I found myself thinking about the driver's choice for divorce, and whether or not the film serves as a bit of litmus test on one's view of marital covenants. We are never really made privy to the reasons behind the driver's choice for divorce, whether there was infidelity on the part of her husband, whether or not he truly doesn't love her, how oppressive the marriage was, etc. We only get the son's perspective and frustration with his mother's choice, but he, too, can come across as unreasonable and lacking grace in his perception of his mother. The film does address other marriages and stances on sexuality, such as the driver's sister and how her husband leaves her, or the chosen path of the prostitute, or the young woman who eventually shaves her head and removes her shawl in an act of self-expression and...I'm not sure...defiance? Healing? Ryan noted above that it doesn't seem to paint a flattering picture of marriage in Iran, as there are no in-tact or happy/content marriages portrayed here. Is this depiction more descriptive than prescriptive, or is there a suggestion that the decision of the driver, while painful to her son and filled with complex consequences, nonetheless is the "right" one? I'm not sure.

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NBooth   

This movie is #98 on the BBC "Best of the 21st C" list.

Re: marriage. I don't get the impression that the movie is making a normative case for or against it, really. I found many of the driver's arguments compelling and about just as many compromised by her own self-aggrandizement. Which, y'know, self-aggrandizement is a logical defense when your personhood is always under attack, so I'm not even saying there's a moral/ethical judgment made there. But her interaction with her sister suggests that the driver has, at least, some issues with empathy, which makes me think that Kiarostami is less interested in arguing for or against an institution than he is in showing people trying to interact with the institution while at the same time preserving their own integrity. Sometimes the succeed and sometimes they fail, but it's never a simple path with easy answers.

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