Close Up

5 - 19 June 2017: Abbas Kiarostami: Early Works

"Cinema begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami." – Jean-Luc Godard

Almost a year since Abbas Kiarostami's unexpected departure, Close-Up celebrates the art of Iranian cinema's poet by screening some of his rarely seen early films made in the 1970s and 1980s for the Centre for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanoon), but also The Report, a highly influential and compelling marriage drama from 1977. This programme shows the filmmaker reframing the world and the relationships between individuals through his creative involvement with actors – often amateurs and children – producing philosophical works that reinvigorated the genres of documentary and narrative fiction, frequently blurring the lines between the two.

Programme 1: Beginnings and Journeys

The Traveller
Abbas Kiarostami
1974 | 74 min | B/W | Digital

“Kiarostami’s first feature film, and arguably one of his best, The Traveller was made for Kanoon (The Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). A suspenseful, witty story of a young boy’s determination to travel from his small town to Tehran to attend a national football match, it combines realism with the economy and precision of a visual artist (the director’s first occupation before turning filmmaker). Featuring brilliant performances by a cast of non-actors, the film has one of the most gripping, unforgettable endings in film history.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Bread and Alley
Abbas Kiarostami
1970 | 10 min | B/W | Digital

“Based on a real-life incident experienced by Kiarostami’s brother, Taghi, the director’s first film sets the template for his cinema until the late 1980s. It concerns a young boy who is unable to return home with the bread he has bought, due to his fear of a stray dog in an alley. The film’s jazzy soundtrack, which pretty much dictates the editing, is based on the BeatlesOb-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Abbas Kiarostami
1972 | 14 min | B/W | Digital

“Famous for its non-narrative approach and its open ending, this story of a schoolboy who is dismissed from the classroom after breaking a window presages not only The Traveller, but also Mohammad-Ali Talebi’s film Willow and Wind, scripted by Kiarostami” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Programme 2: Report

The Report
Abbas Kiarostami
1977 | 109 min | Colour | Digital

“Produced by Iranian New Wave cinema director and producer Bahman Farmanara (making this Kiarostami’s first break with Kanoon), The Report centres on an unhappy marriage and offers viewers a time-capsule of middle class life in Tehran in the 70s. Starring Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, and a major influence on many Iranian directors of the post-revolutionary era (including the two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi), this deftly crafted, semi-autobiographical domestic drama was Kiarostami’s first work to feature professional actors. All copies of the film are believed to be lost or destroyed, with the digital copy presented being the sole surviving film element.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Programme 3: Adolescence & Poverty

The Experience
Abbas Kiarostami
1973 | 53 min | B/W | Digital

Drawn from personal experiences and written by a key director of Iranian new cinema, Amir Naderi, this was Kiarostami’s first mid-length film.

"This story of a working-class adolescent, orphaned and impoverished, who works as an errand-boy in a photographer's studio and who falls in love with an older girl from a better-off family, becomes in Kiarostami's hands a real subversion of the 'rules' of a popular sub-genre of Iranian commercial cinema (poor girl loves rich girl). A world away from melodrama, The Experience is constructed using a series of dead times, which are the very devices that give the films its meaning and its poetry.” – Alberto Elena

A Suit for the Wedding
Abbas Kiarostami
1976 | 56 min | Colour | Digital

Two young boys ask a friend who works in a tailor's shop to let them wear a new suit especially tailored for a rich man's son, while the shop owner's away. Alberto Elena calls the film a “daring in its treatment of poverty and the breakdown between social classes, more than any other Kiarostami film with the possible exception of The Experience."

Programme 4: School Films

Abbas Kiarostami
1989 | 70 min | Colour | Digital

“A major film by the greatest of all Iranian filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami, this is an idiosyncratic though mainly straightforward 16-millimeter documentary about the homework done by boys in primary school, with the interviews carried out by Kiarostami himself. For all the simplicity of its approach, this film has a great deal to impart about Iran during its war with Iraq, and some of the unorthodox formal procedures carried out by Kiarostami are as provocative as in his subsequent documentary masterpiece, Close-Up; moreover, the director seems every bit as adept as Truffaut at handling children with respect.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

Two Solutions for One Problem
Abbas Kiarostami
1975 | 5 min | Colour | Digital

“Try to imagine Laurel and Hardy directed by Robert Bresson and you may get some notion of the hilarious performance style of Two Solutions for One Problem, a syncopated, deadpan grudge match between two schoolboys that ensues after one returns a borrowed book to the other with its cover torn. The camera lingers on the resulting damage, including a broken pencil, a ripped shirt and a split ruler, while an offscreen narrator explains whose possessions got destroyed; then the story begins again with the torn book cover being glued back by the guilty party, proposing a second solution to the problem.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

Abbas Kiarostami
1975 | 14 min | Colour | Digital

Colours recalls the abstract montages of Hollis Frampton’s Zorn’s Lemma in terms of its colour coding, but it also indulges violent fantasies involving cars, guns, little boys and paint.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

So Can I
Abbas Kiarostami
1976 | 4 min | Colour | Digital

"Structured around two opposing scenarios, like several other films Kiarostami made for Kanoon, this short film invited primary school children to look at the way animals move, and then to think about those movements in comparison with their own." – Alberto Elena

Orderly or Disorderly
Abbas Kiarostami
1981 | 16 min | Colour | Digital

“The most remarkable of the shorts, Orderly or Disorderly, shows boys leaving a classroom, heading for a water fountain and getting on a bus, then offers a cosmic overview of adults driving through a busy section of Tehran. Each action is shown twice, with the boys or adults behaving in an orderly or disorderly fashion, though the degree to which this is being staged or documented is teasingly imprecise – a kind of ambiguity that continues in Kiarostami’s work all the way up to Ten.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

Programme 5: Political Allegories

First Graders
Abbas Kiarostami
1985 | 79 min | Colour | Digital

First Graders is best considered as a companion film to Homework. Both deal in the most explicit way with issues of primary school education, with deviations for the sake of meta-poetic or political commentary. This film serves less as a critique of the educational system, instead focusing on the role of the school headmaster, who resembles the judge in Close-Up. He is a patient, spiritual figure who restores order and with this portrait Kiarostami provides a subtle and somehow sympathetic image of a totalitarian leader, in which there is both ambiguity and irony.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Solution no.1
Abbas Kiarostami
1978 | 11 min | Colour | Digital

“After having his tyre repaired at the top of Alborz Mountain, a man tries to hitch a ride back to his car, but is ignored by all passersby. He therefore decides to roll the tyre to his destination. The idea of rejection leading to self-determination makes this another allegorical film, which along with Masoud Kimiai’s influential Journey of Stone sees resilience and movement intertwined, alluding to a revolution already in full force.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

The Chorus
Abbas Kiarostami
1982 | 16 min | Colour | Digital

“In a small town in northern Iran, an old man who is aggravated by the noise of his surroundings switches off his hearing aid. But when his granddaughter returns home from school, he is unable to hear the doorbell. Possibly inspired by the post-revolutionary protests and uprisings, this is one of Kiarostami’s very few political allegories: the elderly, patriarchal figure does not hear the call of the young, unless they group together and deliver their message as a chorus.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Programme 6: Seconds

76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami
Seifollah Samadian
2016 | 76 min | Colour & B/W | Digital

This is a portrait of an artist, whose exceptional approach to Art and life, defined him as one of the most ardent admirers of life itself. The leading aim of this documentary is to share 76 minutes and 15 seconds of undiscovered moments of Abbas Kiarostami’s life and work, in commemoration of his 76 years and 15 days of creative journey. The shots of this documentary are selected out of hundreds of hours of footage, filmed during 25 years of friendship, inside and outside Iran in various occasions: film festivals, photo exhibitions, photography sessions, artistic events, workshops and some unique moments of his daily life.

Take Me Home
Abbas Kiarostami
2016 | 16 min | B/W | Digital

Abbas Kiarostami takes his camera to south of Italy and shows us a beautiful and playful video of alleys and stairs.

Many thanks to Ehsan Khoshbakht for putting this programme together and to the British Council for their generous support in making this programme possible: