Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has had extensive influence on world filmmaking over his 30-year career, particularly in Iran and developing countries. “10 on Ten,” a self-contained master class on cinema, succinctly brings together his current ideas about how to shoot a film, using his 2002 feature “Ten” as the chief example. The connections he makes between his cinema and Italian neo-realism will interest scholars, students and fledgling directors, who will comprise pic’s audience when it is released on DVD, the format in which it will be most widely seen.
Of course, not everyone wants to follow the path of Iranian realism, as Kiarostami acknowledges. Contrasting his pared-down DV-camera style with the diametrically opposed Hollywood model, he ironically counsels those who seek “success” to adopt the latter. But for those who choose the path less traveled, he has much clear, well-argued advice.
The film is divided into short lessons called “The Subject,” “The Director” and so forth. Even more rigorously — if that’s possible — than in “Ten,” the camera simply frames Kiarostami at the wheel of his SUV as he drives over the hills around Tehran that served as locations for “Taste of Cherry.” The film may be monotonous, but static it isn’t. However, with film excerpts used very sparingly, it requires concentration to stay connected to this one-man show.
Thanks to a clear English voice-over by Steve Gadler, carefully mixed over Kiarostami’s Farsi, comprehension is simplified for English speakers.
When the final scenes of “Taste of Cherry” got ruined in the lab, Kiarostami was forced to reshoot on a small DV camera. The experience convinced him of its superiority in capturing natural, spontaneous behavior from his non-pro actors and extras. He used it for the second time in his documentary “ABC Africa.”
For him, this miniature technology is a camera-cum-pen, able to abolish cliches and pretentious aesthetics. Because it costs so little, it allows filmmakers to dispense with outside investors and frees them to be as independent like writers, painters or sculptors. It also gives them an arm against state censorship, which in many countries, like Iran, is no small deal.
From Kiarostami’s point of view, the filmmaker’s job is not to excite or move the audience through storytelling, but to reflect everyday reality while leaving room for ambiguity. Quoting Cesare Zavattini, one of the fathers of neo-realism, he notes that subjects for films are to be found all around us.
In a lesson headed “Locations,” he reminds us that every camera movement, or lack of movement, must have a reason. It will come as no surprise to his viewers that his own favorite location is a car. There, with two characters seated side by side, the most intimate dialogue can take place in quarters so cramped they stimulate “stress and suffocation,” and thus drama.
All you really need, he says encouragingly, is a camera, three lenses and a couple of tripods.
In the end, this brand of guerrilla filmmaking and anti-technique is both inspiring and liberating, and its champion is undeniably a model of success of a different kind. The power of American movies may, as he says, be greater and more problematic than its military might. “10 on Ten” aims to present an alternative.