Monday, 4 July 2016

Return to Uncertainity: Geoff Andrew on Kiarostami

An Interview with Geoff Andrew
Return to Uncertainty

Geoff Andrew is one of the most famous Kiarostami defenders in the current scene of film criticism, though the 72 year-old filmmaker hardly needs any defense now. But there is something different, a new perspective in Andrew's approach to Kiarostami that makes his writings and his views something of a discovery even for someone from Kiarostami's homeland, like me.

His very carefully structured book on Ten, from BFI Modern Classics series, represents a distillation of his thoughts and feelings about Ten, and about Kiarostami in general. Also a great part of this brilliant book comes out of the interviews with Kiarostami that he conducted during the past 7-8 years.

Mr. Geoff Andrew is the senior film editor for Time Out London, head of programming of the National Film Theatre, and author of numerous books, including The Films of Nicholas Ray: The Poet of Nightfall and The 'Three Colours' Trilogy.

This interview about Kiarostami’s cinema took place at National Film Theatre, London, April 2011. First it was published in Iranian Film Quarterly (Farsi translation in Film Monthly), and later the general parts of the interview appeared on Aslan Media website which can be read here. These are Q&As that didn't fit in the Aslan Media post.

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  • Most of the reviews and pieces of film criticism on Certified Copy tend to question if the couple knew each other from the past, or whether if their relationship actually starts at the beginning of the film.

Impossible to tell! Abbas doesn’t know himself. I have spoken to Juliet about it, I haven’t spoken to William Shimell about it, but I interviewed Abbas and Juliet and it was like no one knows. I don’t really know! Even if you watch it 10 times there are still questions to be asked. I have watched Certified Copy four times, and each time I see it, I understand it less, which is good. I have to keep going back to it. I don’t know what the relationship between these two people is.

  • Can we take this as a starting point – the fact that nobody knows what the relationship between these two people is - and try to define cinema of Kiarostami upon this ambiguity?

Yes, I think it is the cinema of uncertainties. I’m not original in this. A friend of mine who is a teacher, Laura Mulvey, she wrote an article maybe 15 years ago it was called the “uncertainty principle”. It’s there in every film he has made. From Bread and the Alley, to the present. Abbas often says that you need to tell lies to reach the truth, and of course any film maker tells lies, just making a film is a lie, it’s not reality, it’s a representation of reality. So even documentaries are lies. they are not truth. But at least, Abbas is open about it, and he tells interesting lies.

  • Kiarostami has always been famous for his open endings, but now we can see even a tendency toward the open narrative that shifts every minute. It did exist in his films made in Iran, but now it seems the technique has reached a new level.
That’s true, but I think that has been there for quite a while. He made Shirin about people watching a film that doesn’t exist, and He made Five in which there is no story, and they suppose to be five single takes but they are not, there is a cut after the people walking along by the sea and there are many cuts with the moon and frogs. And Ten is full of things that we don’t know. We don’t see, for instance, the prostitute who is the passenger of the car who wasn’t the prostitute anyway. It was somebody else, sister of  Mania Akbari!

  • You wrote about one of Kiarostami’s films that it "assembled in order, they comprise a kind of abstract or emotional narrative arc, which moves evocatively from separation and solitude to community, from motion to rest, near-silence to sound and song, light to darkness and back to light again, ending on a note of rebirth and regeneration.”
It’s about Five.

  • But it’s very interesting that we can still repeat the very same lines about Certified Copy.

Yes, maybe. It was definitely about Five, and I think, even in Ten there is a slightly positive ending and when I spoke to Abbas about it he admitted that perhaps at the end even though the situation hasn’t changed perhaps you feel a little stronger about yourself. I think he said it was almost like a new day. If you read my book on Ten, I start with a quote that you think it’s about Ten, but it’s actually about Close Up. He keeps making the same film, like Ozu, Renoir or fritz Lang.

  • Do you think the fact that he is making films in Japan or Italy now, will add a new dimension to his films, or as you said before, it’s just one film?
It’s just one film but it’s many films. It’s like human beings. We are just one person, but we are many people. You are different with me to the way you are and you move, your mother and father and your friends in Iran. Everybody is a multitude. We all conflict ourselves, but we still are one person. In terms of his films they are all Kiarostami films, but they are different. So even if he makes film in Italy or France or Japan or Britain or anywhere, it will always be a Kiarostami film. He made ABC Africa where no one else could make that film. His episode in the film Tickets is one of the best episodes of the film, much better than Ken Loach or the other ones, but it is also a great little film, it’s absolutely wonderful. And nobody else could have made that, the way he plays with what we can’t see, what we can hear but can’t see. If you look at Tickets you may find the seeds of Certified Copy. Because we don’t know about this relationship between this old man and woman. What is the relationship? Are they lovers? Is the man her employee? What is the strange relationship? And Certified Copy came out of that. Each film comes out of previous one, and Abbas is very honest about that. He makes Where Is the Friend’s House, after The Homework, and Where Is the Friend’s House is about homework. They are all connected, sometimes in the very strange ways.

  • Your interview with Kiarostami has been translated into Farsi and published in one of the most read newspapers in Iran, and also your book on Ten is translated, too.

I didn’t know that, but it’s fine as long as it’s translated well. For that book, I chose the photographs very carefully. I wanted to look at Ten in one way through the writing, but I also wanted to tell another story through the pictures. So I chose them very carefully, and their position, they had to be on a particular page at a particular point. Even the captions I wrote, and most people didn’t realize this, but all the captions are titles of the films made by directors whose names begin with K. It’s strange, but I did this. Actually if you are a filmmaker and your name begins with K you have a great advantage: Kiarostami, Kubrick, Keaton, Kieslowski, Kazan, and lots of other names. If ever I made a film, I would change my name to Geoff Kandrew for the advantage. Anyway I did strange little things with the pictures as well.

  • How do you describe  Kiarostami’s position in the history of cinema?
It is very difficult to place him, because he is so unique. He is quite eccentric in many ways. He wants to do things differently and he does it differently. I think he thinks differently from other people.

  • That could be true because he says that he has no influence from history of cinema, he doesn’t watch other people’s films.
I know. He doesn’t watch many films. He is not a cinephile. He has talked a little about Robert Bresson, and the use of sound in Bresson films as influence on him. He obviously has seen some Bergman, some Renoir.

  • …and Rohmer, and possibly Richard Linklater, for his last film.
I would never suggest that he was influenced by Linklater specially, even by Rohmer, though you can imagine that he has seen Rohmer. Rohmer was my other favorite living film maker who died. Abbas and Rohmer are my two favorites.  But still I think he is different from many other filmmakers, because he thinks differently. When I have conversations with him, sometimes I’m surprised by the way he looks at the world, usually a strange way to look at it. A very good example is in ABC Africa where he and Samadian [cameraman] are talking about malaria and aids and disease and death. It is a very odd thing to say, the fact that people and children are dying. They are joking about how dreadful it would be to die just because of a mosquito’s bite. That would be very tragic, much more tragic than a normal death. I think Abbas looks at the world from a slightly different angle, and he looks at the back of the world. He is like a cubist.

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