Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The mirror

I, hoping to continue exploring films that might be out of my comfort zone, picked this Iranian film called “The Mirror”, because I had greatly enjoyed the only other Iranian film I had watched-”The Song of Sparrows” and I would like to get to know more about Iranian culture through the lens. Also I was curious whether there would be a big change in the look of landscape and city scenes, or a noticeable changing culture(maybe influenced by the western world), since “The mirror” is made in 1997 while “The Song of Sparrows” almost ten years later, in 2008.

Twenty minutes after I started watching the film, I began to question whether this would be the right type of film for me to watch and write my paper on: the narrative seemed to go on extremely slowly. I have a constant anticipation that something strange/dangerous would probably happen to this little girl called Mina, who wandered off on her own after school because her mom didn’t show up to pick her up. She walked across/ along the street and asked strangers for directions. Although the interactions are quite intriguing: for example, the conversation between her and the men on the motorcycle about how her baby brother taking up all her mother’s attention, the constant gossips at the bus surrounding her on just about any daily subjects including marriage, work and children, the on-going ambient radio reports on the soccer match between Iran and Korea. Half of the time, she was being an observer-timid and careful, absorbing information around her but never makes a comment, the other half of the time, she was being an “actor”-bold and forward, reaching out to people around her and asking for help. All was interesting, yet nothing in terms of story developed. It almost seemed the whole film was just one long continuous shot with no cut or jump in time. Maybe that was the point of the film? I though to myself.

Soon I was at the verge of zoning out. Then, there came the draw-dropping moment when the little girl, Mina suddenly took off her head scarf and stared straight into the camera, and shouted “I don’t want to act any more!”. Right at this moment, the line between film and reality is broken and blurred. The fourth wall has suddenly been shattered. The cinematography suddenly changes dramatically, too. Immediately, jerky, hand-held shots are presented and the film stock look more grainy and less controlled in terms of framing and focus. I couldn’t help pausing the film, and started telling everyone around me(I was with my friends in the studio at that time) about this shocking idea/incident. What happened next was that Panahi, the director and his crew were trying to persuade Mina back into resuming her role but soon decided they were going to follow her home secretly instead. However to me, the film has already made its point. It doesn’t matter much to me whether Mina ended up home or not.

As the film proceed with long shots of traffic and noise, I switch my mind to thinking: How much of this is authentic, or is it staged? I found myself struggle to find the boundaries between the two but soon I realized that the Tehran “reality” is fascinating regardless of its authenticity: A young romantic couple on a bus, who must occupy separate, gender-specific sections and can only shyly eye each other from a distance. An old woman complain about being neglected by her family and other woman complain about their marital circumstances. Men in the film, seem to be primarily interested in listening vicariously to radio broadcast of the Iranian soccer games. People are all trying to handle the vicissitudes of society in a big city, Tehran.

Some research

taught me that, since 1979 Iranian revolution, making movies about children in Iran has more practical advantages because children are always credited with more innocence than adults and can be allowed to display a wide range of emotions without suspicion; it was also easier to film them on the street. The director’s first film, “White Balloon”, depicted a seven-year-old girl ‘s afternoon-long efforts in the city streets to buy a goldfish in preparation for the Iranian new year festivals. “The mirror” begins in a similar fashion as the “White Balloon”, as school lets out, a young girl, is is seen waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. As it turns out, the mother doesn’t arrive at the appointed time, and the entire plot is simply about the girl’s efforts to get home. So it looks like another “White Balloon”, but the filmmaking style is drastically different: Panahi opens up this film with an amazing three and half minute panning shot that makes a full 360 degree circuit around a traffic circle. It then later depicted the girl wandering in and out of closeup, sometimes disappearing in crowd scenes, and then reappearing. This reminds me films of the Italian neo-realistic period of the 40s and 50s, representative of a rough and ready documentary film style; they seem to capture more of the “real world” .

Overall, I was fascinated by the concept of the film though the film might have difficulty sustaining an audience interest. I was glad to have picked it to watch; it is nevertheless an important figure on the Iranian film scene.

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