One hundred and fourteen Iranian theater and film actresses, as well as one famous Frenchwoman, Juliette Binoche, are watching a film adaptation of the twentieth-century Persian poem Khosrow and Shirin about the impossible love of the Sasanian shah and the Armenian princess. Although viewers won’t see a single shot from that film, they will understand everything by the women’s faces, coming and going approximately every thirty seconds, as well as by the soundtrack composed of voices, music, sounds of galloping and sword fights. An exploration of the spectator’s perception and the relationship between document and fiction, the visible and the hidden, Abbas Kiarostami’s experimental picture premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. Garage Screen will host the Russian premiere of its restored version.
Shirin is partly an inheritor of Latvian documentary filmmaker Hertz Frank’s short Ten Minutes Older (1978), in which a hidden camera captures close-up a boy’s reaction to a puppet show. Kiarostami first contributed to the almanac To Each His Own Cinema (2007) with a conceptually similar novella Where Is My Romeo?, where the audience, also Iranian actresses, watch the tragic finale of Gianfranco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), before developing this idea to the limit with Shirin a year later.
The editing creates the impression of the actresses’ simultaneous presence, although, in reality, they did not watch the film together in a large cinema but were filmed separately in Kiarostami’s Tehran house. Moreover, the film that they are watching does not exist—only the soundtrack to it. Looking at a sheet of paper depicting a man and a woman without any musical accompaniment, the actresses had to remember love experiences, whether their own or from the movies, and play them out.
Composed of the allegedly sincere reactions of bored, laughing, and crying female viewers, this is, in fact, a conceptual statement about acting (cinematic and generally human), the nature of perception, imagination, and identification, as well as the relationship between truth and fiction. Not following the lead of the Western festival audience and emphatically rejecting any “exotic” narrative, Kiarostami leaves the spectator alone with a pure emotional experience.
The film will be screened in Persian with Russian subtitles.
The screening will be preceded by an evening of Persian poetry at Garage Auditorium. Iranists Leyla Lakhuti and Evgeniya Nikitenko will discuss the locus of poetry in the culture of Iran and read verses by the “poet of Iranian cinema” Abbas Kiarostami and other authors. Admission is free with advance registration.
Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
Iran, 2008. 92 min. 12+