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Makhmalbaf sees a golden opportunity to make amends with his own past as he creates this groundbreaking meta-cinematic experiment that blends reality and fiction in so many different, unpredictable levels, while managing to surprise us at the most unexpected moments.
Serving as a critically acclaimed Iranian film, A Moment of Innocence sounded like a strong chance to branch out into world cinema.
A Moment of Innocence is directed by critically acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of the most critically acclaimed Iranian filmmakers of all time. As A Moment of Innocence was the first of his films that I had seen, and it was quite an interesting experience, for better and for worse.
A Moment of Innocence is a semi-autobiographical story, and as part of Hohsen Makhmalbaf's directorial style it goes back and forth between being a recreation of real life events and part of the actual narrative, as well as the fact that there are some scenes which seem to be genuine documentation. This is an intriguing amalgamation of film styles, but at the same time it makes the feature convoluted because keeping up with what is actually a part of the narrative and what is meant to be a recreation or genuinely realistic is a challenge to understand. There are times when viewers will really question the extent of reality and validity in A Moment of Innocence because the structure keeps on going back and forth between what is real and what is fiction which is challenging to understand. It is interesting to watch and can provoke thoughts in the viewer about the story and the potential that filmmaking has on its viewers, but as a whole it is really convoluted. The general film style of A Moment of Innocence is its most iconic element, as well as the fact that it is an Iranian film which is not too common in Western civilization. When the confusing structure of the film's style combines with the fact that the film is one of a foreign language with subject matter more relevant to a different culture. There is a certain ambiguity about the nature of how people are treated in the society that A Moment of Innocence is set in which viewers who can empathise with the characters on a personal and social level will understand better or those affiliated with the culture of the film, but it you're like me and hoping that A Moment of Innocence will teach you something about a foreign society then it will not precisely reach your expectation. But to be fair there is no way of knowing what to expect from a film like A Moment of Innocence. But there is certain value in watching it because the experimental film style is fascinating as well as the fact that the story is a complex one which explores a lot of subject matter and complicated themes, revealing things along the way such as the way that women must be depicted in the middle-eastern media to the view that the lower class people have of authority figures. The tale deals with love, forgiveness and working together amid a lot of its complex story elements which makes it quite the experience on an intellectual level. To be frank, there is a lot to take in from A Moment of Innocence because it is a very artistic film which avoids convention every step of the way, but that also means that the experience is most likely one that viewers would not have experienced before, and that comes at the expense of the narrative's comprehensiveness. Understanding everything is challenge, but that does not necessarily mean that enjoying it is.
A Moment of Innocence has an intriguing story behind it. While precisely what relevance it has to the actual world can be rather ambiguous, the entire idea of a story about an unlikely friendship bonding between a protestor and the policeman he stabbed as a teenager is one which is interesting. As the tale unravels, we see the process of recreating that event in a semi-documented format and there are interesting characters involved in the production who approach many situations with a sense of realism. It is hard to say that any actors stand out in A Moment of Innocence because all the cast members play their roles with as simple sense of humanity about them which characterizes them as simple human beings in a complicated situation. There is never melodrama or tedious sentimentality in what they do, and every cast member is so dedicated to the role that it becomes harder to tell if what they are doing is acting or real. The cast in A Moment of Innocence combine the semi-surreal nature of the style to suspend viewers in disbelief and challenge their thoughts on what defines reality because it is really difficult to grasp where the realism in the story lies. As a surreal film, A Moment of Innocence manages to capture a distorted sense of realism without having a story which goes off the rails. And at the same time, everything looks good because Hohsen Makhmalbaf has a keen eye for strong imagery. Using the scenery of the film to establish the cultural context and filming it all with cinematography which is atmosphere and tends to encourage the sense of realism in the film, A Moment of Innocence looks really good. Pretty much all the success of A Moment of Innocence is predicated on Hohsen Makhmalbaf's directorial style because it is so far from conventions that it proves challenging to forget. It may not be the easiest thing to understand, but with all the passion and imagery in A Moment of Innocence, it is certainly worth giving it a chance because for the first Hohsen Makhmalbaf film I have ever seen, A Moment of Innocence certainly serves as a strong stepping stone into Iranian world cinema.
So while comprehending the narrative in the film is really challenging to viewers not familiar with Hohsen Makhmalbaf's directorial style, the way that he suspends viewers in disbelief as to what is real and what is not proves to be really interesting as an experience which manages to tie most of A Moment of Innocence together even with a few loose ends here and there.
As in <i>Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One</i> (1968), I am in the imperative need to make a dissected analysis of the film in so-called Levels of reality and meta-reality to uncover both the real-life aspects from the cinematic medium and the moral subtext hidden within (if you paid close attention, I already gave you the heads-up of three levels by now).
In the tradition of Kiarostami's masterpiece <i>Close-Up</i> (1990), Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf constructs a semiautobiographical meta-commentary account of his real life experience (kill some neurons). Why, then, to use a <b>fictionalized real account</b> rather than a <b>real-life, documented account</b> about a <b>real-life</b> event? In my humble opinion, Makhmalbaf also wants to explore, similarly to Kiarostami but with different priorities, the power of cinema in order to make amends about a criminal act committed in what, maybe, he is self-justifying it as a "moment of innocence".
<b>Level 1: Real life.-</b> When Makhmalbaf was a teenager, he stabbed a policeman at a protest rally. This is the whole subtext, but not the main plot of the film, and therefore is visually unavailable to the viewer.
<b>Level 2: Extremely brief documentary fragments.-</b> These fragments are represented by the clapperboard which, in tradition, are used to synchronize picture and sound. In this case, they introduce the film, and are meant to synchronize fiction with reality.
<b>Level 3: The dramatized film that we see.-</b> The plot opens 20 years after the Level 1 real-life event, with an aged policeman looking for the house of the real-life director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to call on an old debt. The policeman was knifed by Makhmalbaf, but the director was sent to prison. Makhmalbaf had also promised to put the policeman in a film documenting the events in an attempt to make amends. After the visit, Makhmalbaf is inspired to make a film, but hires different crews and actors to recreate the scene in the <b>real-life</b> crime scene of Level 1.
<b>Level 4: The dramatized shooting of the crime scene.-</b> The level featuring the most iconic scene of <b>Level 3</b>, which is the main level this review is really about, presents some hypnotic imagery and score to evoke in the viewer feelings of unease, nostalgia and even self-reflection (read immediately below).
<b>Level 5: The actual making of this film.-</b> All feature films, by definition, have this level. This is a compliment to Level 1, and it refers to the director making this film, and even directing himself. We do not see this level inside the film; it is necessary to resort to behind-the-scenes footage.
Level 3 is the most important level cinematically speaking, while Level 4 is the most important level morally speaking, because <i>A Moment of Innocence</i> is the real-life attempt by the director to make amends with himself in real-life (Level 1), immortalizing it with Level 3; ergo, Level 4 is his "Level-1" exercise of self-reflection. In this attempt of self-reflection, he adds a twist to Level 3: the perspective of the director is different than that of the policeman. According to the policeman, the story was really about his love for a pretty young girl, purity symbolized by the white flower. From the director's perspective, however, the attack was planned by the director himself along with the girl that the cop saw, because the director and the girl had a humanitarian cause in mind. The remarkable climax of Level 3 shows the policeman's epiphany, leading to a conflict I had never seen in cinema, with its moral implications for all parties involved.
In Level 3, Makhmalbaf also plays with identities. If he had attempted to make a documentary, the real-life people would be needed. Perhaps he deemed this as dangerous or insensitive. Therefore, he made a feature film, not a documentary - same reasons why <i>Close-Up</i> is more a film than a documentary, and therefore qualifies as a film because of the undeniable presence of fictionalized representations. With this in hand, he directs, writes and acts in the film, as a master of all Levels, from 1 to 4, but he confesses his lack of expertise in Level 4, because he seems to be suggesting that he hasn't come to terms with himself by the time the film was made. If the film is an apology letter, it is obvious that the sole creation of the film had Makhmalbaf saying sorry to the people involved in the Level 1 event, and probably also trying to forgive himself through a Level 3 immortalization: the power of cinema. So, he is a master of the first three Levels, given that this film is a masterpiece, and he was the perpetrator of the act described in Level 1, but there's some inner damage to be fixed.
Conclusion: Level 3 is meant to help Level 4, which will definitely make Level 1 easier to digest personally. This purpose offers Level 2 as an evidence. Thank God for Level 5.
No wonder why the shooting of Level 4 has different technical qualities and cinematography, already described, than Level 3, where the tracking shots are more documentary-like, symmetric and sometimes static, rather than haunting and POV-like.
Cinema can restage the past, but can it absolve it?
This experimental, non-traditional narrative unfolded gradually but didn't feel slow like most art films. By the end, I was nearly on the edge of my seat, something extremely rare for this kind of art house/experimental film. I don't think I can possibly recommend this film enough.
I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it.
Makhmalbaf is blurring the line between reality and fantasy - the past and the present . I honestly couldn't tell how much is scripted and how much is real. A fascinating look into an event that shaped the life of the director. When he was only 17 he stabbed a policeman while trying to steal his gun and was incarcerated for 5 years.
Obviously a huge event in the life of both people. 20 years later the policeman and him recreate the event in an attempt to understand and overcome the past.
A brilliant meditation on memory, violence, perspective, and youth. While attempting to make a film about his memories of a key event in his life, Makhmalbaf gives us much more: a way forward from the shameful past. In this, the film feels like an act of discovery on the director's part, an act that's freshness and vitality has not waned in more than a decade since its release. From the midst of a still-oppressive society, the film offers a universal response to oppression.
"Cinema can re-stage the past, but can it absolve it?"
Although known these days as an opponent of the Islamist regime and exile from Iran, Mohsen Makhmalbaf was a militant in his youth. Desiring to fight the shah's regime, in 1974 he tried to steal a gun from a policeman, only to get shot and imprisoned for a few years. His film NUN VA GULDOON (Bread and Flowerpot) reflects on this event, but in a novel fashion.
For rather than simply make a film with young actors playing the roles of Makhmalbaf and policeman, the auteur gives us a film about making a film. As NUN VA GULDOON opens, we witness the now 40 year-old policeman (Mirhadi Tayebi) visiting the home of Makhmalbaf, hoping to get a part in one of his films as compensation for the attack of two decades earlier. The policeman and Makhmalbaf cast the young men who they want to portray themselves and agree to each direct their respective younger counterparts. We progressively learn more about what really happened on that fateful day, but the boundaries between reality and fiction become blurry. Are we watching a reenactment of the events of 1974, the events themselves (with or without embellishments), or a reiteration of the same political radicalism in present-day Iran?
The result is one of the most powerful films I've ever seen. I've struggled with some of Makhmalbaf's output, but this could only have been made by a master of cinema. Many scenes will haunt you long after the film: not only the final freeze frame (though it indeed deserves all the praise it gets), but the interweaving of timelines and magical transitions between the past and the present. The cinematic artistry on display is much greater than the simplistic presentation of Makhmalbaf in Western media as an opponent of the Iran's Islamist regime and little else, though the film does contain its elements of resistence. Certainly Makhmalbaf's suggestion that political radicalism and desire for change rises anew with each generation must have sat uneasily with the regime, who hoped that it had established for once and for all the right form of government.
A brilliant piece of work that again experiments with memory and how we it gets biased, glorified and idealized wth tm... reminiscent of a li'l Rashomon and Chris Marker .... ends wth one of the greatest ending freeze frames in the history of cinema...