The translucent nature of fact-as-fiction, thus, becomes the sheer lens through which Kiarostami begins to show us ways of seeing we never knew existed. He has shown traces of this fascination with the nature of reality. As early as 1955, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon made a huge statement on perspectives and the distortion of truth in the face of human fallacies. But, Close-Up is the first consistent instance of this distinctive view of cinema and the whole process of filmmaking as a whole. By aesthetically overthrowing the metaphysics of ‘the real’, a translucent reading of reality as fiction begins to replace the opaque metaphysics of objectivity of all violent claims to truth. The fictive transparency of the real that, thus, emerges begins to eat into the legitimacy of any and every absolute claim to truth, reality, authenticity, having-been-there, having-seen-it.

The fictive lucidity of the real is the strategic attendance upon the reality, otherwise concealed behind the metaphysics of presence. Reality is then stripped of all its accumulated layers of metaphysics. In Close-Up, Kiarostami creates reality and fantasy as being equally present and challenges the perceptions with which individuals live.

Close-Up is one of those brilliant films that come up once in a lifetime and challenges its audience to look and think beyond the ordinary. In a country, where strict state control of cinema and its content has been widely criticized by the Western media, Iranian filmmakers have gone beyond obvious political rhetoric to create a new brand of cinema, taking ample inspiration from the doctrines of Islam and its rich Sufi culture. Cinema, thus, becomes the tool for a national identity and consciousness. And Close-Up is a representative of all that, an Iranian view of the world, where the “personal” is often related to the “universal”.

Thus, what Kiarostami presents us with is a world, where nothing is quite as it appears. The lines between fact and fiction become blurred, especially in the mind of Sabzian who maintains the pretence that he is Makhmalbaf. Kiarostami has always shown an interest in “cinema”. The media are partly shown to be culpable for the fraud of Sabzian too. Their constant reporting on Makhmalbaf surely made his life appear glamorous to Sabzian and therefore, encouraged his deception when the opportunity arose.

Sabzian’s motivations though aren’t immoral- he is a poor and humble man whose wife has left him and he lives with his mother. He has no hopes and ambitions and contemporary Iranian society has no obvious place for him. He has no job and self-esteem and admits that the fraud gave him the only chance in his life to feel important and to be respected – people actually listened to him and his opinions. Sabzian (as Makhmalbaf) explains that he is visiting a family because directors should show humility and live closely with those people he wishes to film. Sabzian is a man who would live a normal life if given the chance. His fraud was born out of desperation. Kiarostami’s ultimate display of sympathy is one of the final shots of the film, as he rides with Sabzian on a motorcycle before visiting the man he impersonated. ‘Close Up’ is a shining example of Kiarostami’s humanism and another superb demonstration of his interests in the distinction/convergence between cinema and life.

With his use of non-actors and his loose use of documentary rules, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s (Taste of Cherry) films can often be characterized by asking whether what the viewer is seeing is reality or fiction. The film, which perhaps most exemplifies this is Close-Up, apparently a documentary about an impostor of another Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Gabbeh: Once Upon A Time). Kiarostami tells the story by asking questions from off-screen to those involved in the legal case, then having the participants play themselves in a re-enactment of the events which actually occurred. A masterwork, considered by many to be Kiarostami’s best.

The courtroom footage is authentically ‘real’, but that means little as the cameras emerge as important forces in how Sabzian’s fate is handled by the court and his accusers. Of course, eventually Makhmalbaf himself enters the re-enactment fray, as himself.

Kiarostami clarifies his idea of cinema when he ejects “the director is the spectator”.

The trial is shown as filmed with a cheap camera, but the flashbacks that describe what happened are filmed again in professional style.

The film is a metaphor on film-making. In effect, Close-Up can be considered a documentary, as the trial and the meeting with Makhmalbaf are absolutely real. The rest of the film, though based on real events, is staged. This is the kind of movie that infuriates American marketers who want everything to fit into categories. But, that’s exactly what makes Close-Up such a groundbreaking movie. Kiarostami’s film is an extraordinary mix of documentary and fiction. He won permission to interview Sabzian in prison and to film his trial. But, most remarkably, he was also able to convince all the participants to re-enact the encounters between the impostor and the family members.

Kiarostami was clear enough. He called Close-up “the filmed version of a real story,” and continued: “Film is the story of the distance between an ideal self and a real one. The greater the distance between the two, the less a man’s mental balance. Everyone keeps trying to bring the two closer to each other to attain some sort of balance…. I create the reality before the camera and then I pull the truth out of it.”

The principal subject of Close-up is not “cinema itself,” but the state of Iranian society and the plight, economic and psychological, of many of its citizens. But, when Sabzian speaks of “the rich who are indifferent to the simple needs of the poor,” or rejects the idea that he is acting in the courtroom or insists that a true artist is someone close to the people or defends his borrowing money from the family he appears before us as a dignified and eloquent representative of the oppressed, whom the Islamic regime ignores and excludes.

The film Close Up thus, can be termed as the milestone in Kiarostami’s film career. He got recognition in the international film fraternity due to his unique style of film making i.e. ’a film within a film style’. He also portrayed the Iran of post war in his film, which gave the west a true impression of his origin and locale. With his background and his knack of film direction —- the whole world got a glimpse of “true cinema” or “reality cinema” —- an example by itself.

Reshmi Chakroborthy