Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami dissolves the borders between reality and fantasy in his masterpiece Close-up. A hybrid of documentary and fiction, the film dramatizes the true tale of Hossein Sabzian, an impoverished man who was arrested for tricking a middle-class family in northern Tehran into believing he was the famous director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, even promising them roles in an upcoming movie. Rather than simply recounting this strange story, Kiarostami made a daring, collagelike film that blends reenactments featuring the main players as themselves, footage from Sabzian’s actual trial, and moving scenes in which Sabzian meets Makhmalbaf for the first time. It’s a hall-of-mirrors work that’s as emotional as it is intellectually engaging, and it exemplifies the great Kiarostami’s bottomless curiosity about the human condition and the strange magic of cinema.
In this clip, Kiarostami (seen almost entirely from behind) arrives at the prison and introduces himself to Sabzian. When Kiarostami asks if there is anything he can do for the prisoner, Sabzian replies, “You could make a film about my suffering.” As with so much of Kiarostami’s cunning film, it is difficult to tell whether the scene is staged or not:
The magic spell that cinema can cast occasionally has devastating effects. In the following clip from the 1996 documentary “Close-up” Long Shot, available on our special edition discs of Kiarostami’s film, a pensive Sabzian discusses his experiences, avowing that his obsession with the cinema “robbed me of my life.”