TEN written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, produced by Kiarostami and Marin Karmitz, with Mania Akbari, Amin Maher and Roya Arabashi. 92 minutes. Screens Friday and Saturday (May 2-3) at Cinematheque Ontario (Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas West). For times, see Rep Cinemas, page 85. And opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 75. Rating: NNNN
Abbas Kiarostami used to make some of the most sublime, beautiful movies on the planet. Now they're just sublime.With his recent documentary, ABC Africa, Iran's humanist master discovered digital video. Now, with Ten, screening this weekend at Cinematheque Ontario before opening commercially next week, he's brought a hard, reality-TV aesthetic to his typically supple philosophical drama. It's an odd fit.
Ten offers a nuanced Kiarostami portrait of a contemporary Tehran woman, but it looks like Blind Date.
In 10 sequences, each introduced by a fake film "countdown" graphic, a woman drives around town engaging passengers in conversation. In the first sequence she squabbles with her son, Amin. The camera stays fixed on the squirming, mouthy kid while he resists Mom's overbearing words. We only hear her.
In the next sequence she's revealed: designer sunglasses, perfect makeup and a loose white head scarf. She's a divorcée.
Amin reappears in three later sequences. Other passengers include her sister, a friend, a devout older woman and a prostitute.
The conversations range from the blunt yes-no tests of will that Kiarostami has always staged so well to searching insights into faith, love, sex and family. "You're the wholesalers, we're the retailers," says the prostitute to the wife.
This is a woman both freed and embittered by her divorce, and Mania Akbari gives a daring performance, playing the kind of prickly character Gena Rowlands played for John Cassavetes.
At its best, Ten's formal simplicity opens up room and time for all kinds of reflection. In her restlessness and imperfection, the driver begins to resemble Leopold Bloom, except with her stream of consciousness externalized into speech.
But the poverty of Kiarostami's images, thanks to his deliberately restrictive shot choices, grates after a while. And the countdown structure, especially with its intrusive sound effect, feels crude.
These are the pitfalls of digital video. Still, this is a remarkable portrait of a rebel woman facing the eternal conflicts rebellion involves.
As compacted melodrama, it's rich.