Is it gauche to open a talk about A Moment of Innocence with reference to Close-Up? Is it possible to talk about the former without mentioning the latter? The films are as much twins as any two works in the medium’s history. Neither is incomplete without the other, exactly, but they’re so intertwined as to be inseparable. It’s not just that they’re both metatextual docufictions from Iran, both focused on their own productions and both retelling real-life stories with the participation of the people who lived them. That all pales in comparison to the main relation between them, of course. A Moment of Innocence director Mohsen Makhmalbaf is the subject of Close-Up, appearing in the film alongside a man who was arrested for imitating him. Close-Up was released six years before A Moment of Innocence, but they might as well have been created alongside one another. The two films speak to each other in their examinations of the politics of historical reconstruction and the essence of reality.
If there’s a key difference between them, it’s that Close-Up is much more deliberately playful in its experimentation. Abbas Kiarostami takes a Wellesian approach to the nature of “truth” by knocking down the walls between reality and reenactment. Makhmalbaf’s take on the concept is less direct and (though it feels sacrilegious to say this in comparison to Kiarostami) more soulful. Makhmalbaf sees his policeman’s humanity where Kiarostami sees what his impersonator represents. This isn’t a qualitative judgement on either film, of course. It’s just worth noting what I see as their different approaches.
I don’t mean to suggest that Makhmalbaf’s film is devoid of anything but personal drama, either. The most interesting scene, to me, comes early on, when the policeman and the boy who is to play him visit a tailor to obtain a costume. At first, the tailor balks at the idea of remaking the uniform of the Shah’s police force. But when he learns that it’s for a film, he happily obliges. In fact, he has one stowed away all ready to go. What’s most notable here is his first question when he’s told about the film: “Are you playing the bad guy?” He’s perfectly willing to contribute to the film under the assumption that the policeman will be portrayed the way he already views him. The uniform transforms from an object that induces disgust to a necessary prop in a particular contextualization. And that’s before it even appears on-screen! It’s a fascinating scene. Makhmalbaf doesn’t delve as deeply as Kiarostami into these ideas, but I think he does it more gracefully.
It’s funny, watching A Moment of Innocence I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time in my life when films like Close-Up completely blew my mind. I used to think that movies that were about themselves in that way, about the act of filmmaking, were as good as the medium could get. I have different interests and fixations now, and I think A Moment of Innocence might have hit me on a more significant level had I seen it five or six years ago. Now my appreciation of it feels inextricable from my memories of a time in my life when it would have truly blown me away. That’s not fair to the film, of course, but this isn’t really about the film at all. It just makes me think about how my taste has changed and evolved over time. I wonder how I’ll categorize my current obsessions another half-decade on. If nothing else, A Moment of Innocence helped me put my love of movies into new perspective.