ten: it is the journey

b haridas

1. The story: Ten is the story of Akbari, a divorcee and her relationship with her son Amin. She drives her car around the city and talks to her son who refuses to listen to her point of view. Apart from her son, a couple of other women take lifts in her car; each one has her own problems and views to share. After the 10th conversation the film ends exactly how it started.

2. The Subject: The condition of women in Islamic societies has been an important subject to many Iranian filmmakers. Samira and Mohsen Makmalbaf, Jafar Panahi and Majid Majidi have all made very powerful films on this subject. The Asian and the western audience saw these issues as only an Islamic society's problems. But significantly Kiarostami's Ten takes out the Islamic reference from the issue and makes it a larger universal film about the man-woman relations and its politics. When we see the film it is not so hard to imagine it as a story of a woman in India.

I was invited to Beirut in Lebanon last week, for a film workshop with students. One of them told me, "You're the only one who can make such a film because of your reputation. If one of us had made it, no one would have accepted it." I replied that, as his teacher, I owed him the truth: making something simple requires a great deal of experience. And, first of all, you need to understand that simplicity isn't the same as facility.

- Abbas Kiarostami

3. Outspoken Kiarostami: Ten in my opinion is the most outspoken film Kiarostami has ever made. Unlike the usual, very subtle Kiarostami film, Ten addresses the issues in a one to one fashion. Marriage, divorce, love, sex, prostitution, God, freedom, prejudices, choices etc. have been discussed with great detail in a very direct approach. And the sides Kiarostami takes are obvious and self-explanatory, so I find no need to write about those aspects of film. On the other hand I will try and put down some thoughts on his method of filmmaking. Having said that, in a Kiarostami film it is hard or impossible to separate the technique from the content. And that quality is what elevates this film to a level, which no other film in the recent past been able to reach.

4. Digital film: Ten can be seen as a manifesto piece for digital film making. If we try to understand the development in Kiarostami's film making process over the years, it looks like digital film making technology has been developed for him. Or at least it came in at the right time. It is not a coincidence; it is an inevitable union of vision and technology. Ten comprises all the qualities digital filmmaking can offer. The almost invisible quality of the camera, not almost but the complete absence of the camera man, lights, crew, etc. which make the actors in front of the camera more comfortable, and help them being themselves. Which is what Kiarostami has always been searching for - people being themselves. And slowly for Kiarostami film making has become close to painting, just the artist and his work of art. But in the case of Ten it has taken a further leap. Even the artist is not present; it is just the work of art developing by itself.

5. A film without director: Kiarostami makes a very significant statement in this film by not putting his name as the director. His name appears in the beginning as the co-producer of the film along with Marin Karmitz and at the end of the film as part of the cast list. In his earlier films, Kiarostami has always tried to provide a great sense of reality by not using professional actors, using documentary footage, people playing themselves and so on. In Ten, he goes one step ahead by declaring the absence of 'the director' himself. There is no one looking through the camera and correcting the actors or prompting them. The actors sit in a car and it moves, they talk and the camera records all that happens. I remember reading in an interview in which Kiarostami said, I am not the creator of the film but if I didn't exist this film wouldn't have happened.

6. Countdown: This looked bit out of place to me. Not as subtle and dignified as the usual Kiarostami motif that he uses to keep reminding the audience that they are watching a film. (The last video sequence in the Taste of Cherry and the reference to camera in Close-Up etc.) And I hope the interpretation of it is not something like the real film/story begins after the count down - that is after the end of the film. I would be a little disappointed if a master like Kiarostami did use such an obvious device. My understanding about this is that at the end of a countdown we expect some thing dramatic to happen, or may be a beginning of something. But the film ends at the place, which is almost where it started, leaving the issues unresolved for the mother and her son and their relationship. Like the completion of a full circle and you are back to where you started, the count down device helps reinforce this fact.

7. The cast: The acting of the boy and few others sit in the car amazed me. I was even more amazed when I read recently that the women who played the mother Akbari is in real life an actress by profession but a divorcee and the boy who played Amin (the son) is her own son named Amin. Now Kiarostami again surprises us with the unique space he creates which is in between reality and fiction. Was Amir talking to his own mother in an off screen real life about what he felt about his parents separation? Or was he just acting on Kiarostami's brief? If it is real what happened to them at the end of the film? What did he feel about all this?

8. Two words: In one of the screenings of Ten in a film school some film students told Kiarostami, "Just because you are a famous director, you can get away with something like this. If we do it no one will tolerate some thing so simple!" In reply, Kiarostami narrates Kundera's story: Kundera relates how his father's vocabulary diminished with age and, at the end of his life, was reduced to two words: "It's strange! It's strange!" Of course, he hadn't reached that point because he had nothing much to say anymore but because those two words effectively summed up his life's experience. When we look Ten carefully the issues the film deals with are so complex that only a person like Kiarostami who has a great vision and experience can sum it up in two words.

9. The Moving car: A moving car is an important element in any Kiarostami film, in other words all his films are part of a journey. In Ten there is no reference of the beginning or end of this journey it is always captured in the middle of the journey. It is not important to Kiarostami where you started and where you reach. It is the journey that is most important to him, not the destination. In another level this helps to explain the ending of the film. At the end it looks like nothing is resolved, the woman didn't even drive her car in to the horizon to depict her freedom, which could be a typically positive ending. But things end exactly where they started like an unhappy ending. True, in appearance everything remains the same to every one. But not the same in meaning…at least for her, and for a sensitive audience too. This change in meaning is what makes us capable of dealing with this world, and makes the journey worthwhile. I was reminded of the Zen saying -"Before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water, after enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water."

10. The Story: Ten is the story of Akbari, a divorcee and her relationship with her son Amin. She drives her car around the city and talks to her son who refuses to listen to her point of view. Apart from her son, a couple of other women take lifts in her car; each one has her own problems and views to share. After the 10th conversation the film ends exactly how it started.

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