A sidebar for Film Comment (July-August 2000). –- J.R.
Viewers feeling flummoxed by Kiarostami’s features might have an easier time with his shorts. The most important are the nine he made between 1970 and 1982 for the film division of the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, which he co-founded in 1969. Assigned to make educational films, Kiarostami scoured a ‘National Film Board of Canada catalog for ideas, regarding Norman McLaren as one of his guides. More than one of his shorts uses animation: So Can I (1975) juxtaposes the movements of cartoon animals with a live-action boy’s imitations. Kiarostami’s only previous gigs had been making commercials and credit sequences for features, and from what he told me recently, he didn’t consider himself a film artist at the time.
But he took the job seriously, and what emerged are experimental films in the best sense, without pretension, akin in form to what Brecht called “learning-plays”. I don’t mean that they offer political critiques of the state of Iran or the state of Islam, as some American commentators seem to feel all Iranian films should. They’re designed to help kids reflect on ethical, aesthetic, and practical issues ranging from the virtues of brushing one’s teeth (Toothache, 1980) to the specific properties of color and sound. Read more
Below are some images from José María de Orb’s Aita (Father), a very beautiful Basque film that was just awarded the best feature prize at FICUNAM — a new film festival in Mexico City, held at the enormous and very impressive-looking Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, where I was privileged to be president of the international feature film competition jury. My fellow jurors were Sergei Dvortsevoy, Emmanuel Burdeau, Nicolás Echevarría, and Roberto Fiesco Trejo, and we viewed sixteen features in all.
Here is our statement about our selection:
“We would like to thank this brand-new festival for adopting the overall strategy of challenging viewers rather than following more traditional paths.
“The three films we have selected are very different from one other, but one important thing they have in common is the struggle and the uncertainties about living in the present in relation to the weight of the past.
“We would first of all like to give a special mention to a very original comedy from Uruguay that confronts the so-called death of cinema with charm, modesty, and precision. Our special mention goes to La vida útil by Federico Veiroj.
“Our selection of best director goes to a filmmaker whose story about the love between a father and daughter plays against the uncertainties of life, sex, and death in relation to the cataclysmic transition in Greece from peasant culture to industrialization. Read more