Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Land, levelled

A piece I wrote a long time ago, when I was 20, at the start of what one may identify as a tendency towards film criticism - at any rate, an immense initiation.


In the final scene of the film, there are two white dots, placed in a vast, endless green expanse; as one dot paces towards the other to attain collision, the other paces to avoid it. And even as the one, hesitant of the two, rushes to escape the frame, the inevitability of their communion remains obvious. It is a motion reminiscent of watching a distant red body in slow-motion free fall, floating in its descent, ambling towards the ground at its gingerly pace, delaying the invariable through its stubbornness, causing doubtfulness as to its final destination, and yet, unable to avoid its eventual end.

 It is the story of a film director, making his film in an area of Iran ravaged by an earthquake only recently. We begin with him facing the camera and informing the audience about his intentions as a filmmaker, informing them also, of his status of being on the verge of an audition for the girl who will play the role of the female protagonist in his film.

A viewer, when faced with the momentous occasion of watching Through the Olive Trees, be warned that he is witness, infact, to two films. The film of Abbas Kiarostami, and the film of the film director within the film. For the first twenty minutes of Through the Olive Trees, the major concern remains the film director’s film – the film-within-the-film. As he goes to a local school, scanning it for prospective actresses, or as we become the subjective owner of the film's perspective which takes us on a literal journey on a tread muddy village path, overlapped with voiceovers about a recently unemployed man requesting a woman working in the film to get him a role; the film director’s film is the central issue. We are watching the making of his film, as made by Kiarostami.

As we go along, however, a conflict arises, as we begin observing a clear distinction between Kiarostami’s film, and the film director’s film. Through tricks of structure, and cleverly revealing camera angles, Kiarostami strives to distance his film from the film of the film director. Both the films begin, simultaneously, to distinguish, and to melt, from/into each other.

The distinctions between them lie in their style of shooting, with Kiarostami employing his usual off-screen wizardry, long unbroken conversations within cars, a more dynamic style of cutting; and letting the filmmaker’s film be shot through a camera that is inherently static, shot after shot, take after take, obstinate in its desire to stay put, and shooting the scene before it in the most minimalist style possible.

The two films, however, face a conjunction in the primary object of their gaze : the developing relationship between a mason, Hossein, and a young, recently orphaned Tarareh. He, staunch in his persistent effort to get her to marry him, and she, persistent in her effort to reveal no clear answer.

That slowly, and gradually, both the films move towards mixing into one harmonious whole, thus, not only blurring the line between reality and fiction, but also eliminating the entire concept of conflict between two distinct bodies, is also the central function of the film’s depiction of the earthquake as an event that diffuses the hierarchy inherent within the rural Iranian society, and brings all the people, classes, the rich and the poor, the homeless and those with homes, and all such distinctions; down to a same level. At a harmonious, united single plane, where people across such inane divisions, meet and, perhaps, though open to dispute, marry.

As Hossein says in one scene to the film director, “Those with homes should marry the ones without the homes, so that we all become equal”. Equality, as such, remains one of the central motives of the film. Equality, or the subjugation of such boundaries, lines, divisions, borders, distinctions, as such between various entities.

The aforementioned final shot of the film, thus also becomes the equalizer, the leveler, the symbol of the earthquake, which in literal, as well as figurative terms, has ‘flattened’ the hierarchy, so that now, everyone, is at the same level. The mason Hossein is a dot in the plane, chasing the home owner, devout Muslim Tarareh, the other dot across it. They are united in the expanse between them. They are together. And though they are placed at a distance together, it is only the horizontal dimension that separates them, and not the ‘vertical’ one.