The 1990 film “Close-Up,” in many ways, epitomizes both the slice-of-life and the political filmmaking that Abbas Kiarostami became so well-known for over the course of his career. A fiction-documentary crossover that plays with its format, casting and source material, “Close-Up” showcases the capacity of the director to push the boundaries of style and genre while creating layered, vibrant narratives.
“Close-Up” tells the real-life story of an unemployed man named Hossain Sabzian, based in Tehran, who impersonates Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film explores the investigation into this case and the trial of Sabzian, while incorporating footage from the actual events.
While this sounds like an original, if relatively standard, approach to storytelling, Kiarostami incorporates a fascinating catch: All of the people involved in the incident are portraying themselves. By telling the story with a cast that has a much more personal relationship with the case and removing the filter of a performance, Kiarostami allows audiences to get a glimpse into the story as if it was playing out in real time.
Makhmalbaf, who directed over 20 feature films and has won several awards, is a respected, well-known filmmaker in Iran — the incorporation of his film career adds a nuanced focus to the notions of career and identity presented in the film. Kiarostami also manages to weave himself into the narrative by emphasizing his investigations into the case; his access to the actual events and parties makes for an immensely compelling journey into Sabzian’s thoughts and the context of the Iranian film industry in which the incidents took place.
“Close-Up” is a breathtaking, often painful, observation of the distinction between “art as passion” and “art as a career.” The film treats its primary subject, Sabzian, with an incredible level of sympathy and sensitivity. Audiences may find it difficult to take sides in this complex courtroom drama for good reasons. The film allows everyone involved to have a chance to emphasize the impacts that film, artistic expression and career success have had on their lives.