Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Release Year: 2002
Country of Origin: Iran
Seen Previously: No
Where You Can See It: Amazon Prime (Included)
One of the things I was most looking forward to when I undertook this challenge was filling in some of the glaring holes in my cinematic diary–movies I definitely should have seen already, but for some reason just haven’t. The works of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami were one of these holes, so getting to finally watch this film was a welcome treat.
Ten, the first of two Kiarostami films on this list, follows an unnamed female Iranian taxi driver in ten different sequences as she drives people around the city of Tehran. Her passengers include her son, her sister, a friend, an old lady going to prayer, and a prostitute. The movie is filmed using two cameras mounted to the dashboard of the vehicle, one showing the passenger and one the driver. While technically a work of fiction, Kiarostami did not script out dialogue between the actors and instructed them to have conversations based on lead actress Mania Akbari’s real life issues. The result is a feeling of authenticity not often achieved in film.
While Kiarostami’s technique does make the film feel more real, it also ads a layer of tedium to the proceedings. Those looking for high cinematic technique should look elsewhere. Here we have a grand total of two shots to cut back and forth to during the 89-minute runtime. The entirety of the film is people sitting in car seats talking to each other. This is not to say that the information being presented isn’t fascinating, but that fascination comes from delving into the film after watching it. This is a movie that’s more fun to talk about than it is to actually watch. The good news is, the goal of this film is so lofty that talking about it feels like a requirement.
That goal is to present what being a woman in modern Iran looks like. Through her interactions with others we learn that the driver is a strong and independent woman who divorced her husband to escape his incessant need to control her life.This act has strained her relationship with her son, who interprets her actions as merely selfish. This theme of men manipulating, controlling, and hurting women continues throughout the film. The driver’s sister is left heartbroken by a man. Her friend too was preparing to be married before her fiance suddenly informed her he couldn’t go through with it. Through the other two passengers, we see two potential avenues for dealing with this sort of heartbreak. The old lady suggests prayer to recover, the prostitute hedonism. For our driver, none of the available options seem viable. What is an Iranian woman to do when the men in their lives control everything? What can a woman do when every available option only leads to more suffering?
As an American in 2017, it’s impossible to talk about an Iranian film without placing it in the context of our current presidential administration. Iran was one of the seven countries that Trump’s travel ban included; and as I write this, the administration is preparing to release a new plan that will constitutionally allow these restrictions to remain in place. Tensions with Iran are high and will probably only get worse as time goes on. It’s easy in times like these for us to look at Iranians and see them as “the other:” people we cannot relate to or understand. People to be feared. And it is here where I think Ten is so important and worthy of this list. The problems the women i face are a result of cultural influences, yes, but they’re not solely Iranian issues.
A woman’s strained relationship with her child as the result of a rough divorce. A woman heartbroken and devastated after her boyfriend dumps her. A woman turns to her religion to deal with heartbreak but finds it unable to help. Women as a whole, trapped in their perceived roles in life, unable to escape. These issues are universal. They are not Iranian, nor American. They are human. Film is an empathy machine. It allows us to understand people we’ve never met. It allows us to break through perceived differences to find the core of who a person is, a core which we all share. Everyone should watch this film if only to help remove this stigma of “the other.”
Scott’s Updated List
As we go through each film on the list, I’m going to re-rank them based on my own personal enjoyment.
Ranking these movies is getting really hard. I haven’t seen a film that I’ve not enjoyed so far, so it’s like ranking 5 things you love against each other. The space between each of these films is so minor that the ranks should really just be 1.5, 1.4, 1.3 etc… Basically, I regret deciding to attempt this updated list, but here it is. Don’t judge me.
3) Toni Erdmann
2) The Gleaners and I
1) Requiem for a Dream