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A vibrant, daringly original work from Abbas Kiarostami, Shirin is the flowering of an experimentalist streak that s been evident in many of the director s most well-known features: Close-Up, Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us, Ten.
Ostensibly an adaptation of a 12th century Persian poem about a young princess courted by two men, a nobleman and an artist, Kiarostami never shows us the film in question. Instead, we are compelled to reconstruct the narrative from dialogue and sound, as well as the emotions that flash across the faces of a rapt, mostly female audience.
A movie about a movie we never see, Shirin makes us active participants in a unique cinematic experience.
- Transfer from HD source
- Taste of Shirin (2008, 27 minutes), a documentary by Hamideh Razavi on the making of the film
- Roads of Kiarostami (2005, 30 minutes), a short film by Abbas Kiarostami
- Rug (2006, 6 minutes), a short film by Abbas Kiarostami
- Essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
"An illusionist tour de force." --Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
"A feast for the bedazzled eye. A brilliantly composed, sensually vibrant visual text. Kiarostami fabricates a fascinating tension between film narrative and film imagery." --Ronnie Scheib, Variety
"Shirin marks another highly original exploration. I don t expect to see a better film for quite some time." --David Bordwell
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Kiarostami is one of the world's best film directors, period. He can purposefully dispense with much of the technique cinema has accumulated over the years and, using only the most barebone methods, still craft an enthralling film like 10.
Shirin is one such film. The entire movie is medium shots of perhaps hundreds of veiled women observing what could be a film or (more likely) a stage adaptation of a certain Persian epic. They're a polite audience, so none of them speak. At certain points they're bored, or moved to tears, or elated by what must be an epic performance on the other side of the camera. Apparently some of them are quite famous, and you are certain to identify at the very least Juliette Binoche.
Under these artificial constraints, Kiarostami shifts the focus of the movie from the plot of the story being told beyond our grasp (which is quite romantic, although a bit hard to follow at points) to the tension of the audience's existence. Why are they all women? Why did a bunch of famous actresses decide to go to the same showing? Why is Juliette Binoche crying when she can't even speak Farsi? Why do the lights in the background repeat the same pattern on a cycle, with no correspondence to the story? Even the lengths of each shot form part of the true plot of the movie.
'Shirin' would be most rewarding for people who enjoy filmmakers whochallenge themselves with arbitrary restrictions, cinematic lipograms like 'Russian Ark' or 'Amour'. The DVD transfer and subtitles are very clear. It comes along with a short behind-the-scenes look I only skimmed through, but which you should most definitely not watch if you don't like spoilers. The story of the Persian epic is just your generic tragic love story about two young lovers kept apart by family s***, however, the real dramatic tension of 'Shirin' is all in the technique.
I am normally a fan of both capital-A-art-film (<em>Begotten</em> is in my top ten films of all time) and Abbas Kiarostami (I was pretty rapturous about <em>A Taste of Cherry</em>, and only slightly less so about <em>Ceritifed Copy</em>), so <em>Shirin</em>, about which I knew not a bloody thing other than that it seems to be Kiarostami's least accessible film (<em>The Guardian</em> called the film "a strain on the viewer"). It turned out that the capsule description on Netflix--which is so often incomplete, or entirely wrong--was perfectly accurate in this case; the film is an hour and a half of close-ups of women watching a movie (anecdotally, not even the movie portrayed here). There are men in the audience; they can be seen in the background occasionally. But all of the close-ups are of women, mostly Iranian, one French.
Normally, I get it. I understand what Radha Bharadwaj was on about in the vastly underrated <em>Closetland</em>, I saw without any problems what Stan Brakhage was doing in pretty much every one of his movies I've seen, Derek Jarman's <em>Blue</em> made perfect sense to me, even if I didn't think it actually worked all that well. But here, I didn't have clue one what Kiarostami wanted to tell me. I am more than willing to entertain the possibility that it's not the movie, it's me, and this one simply went right over my head. But if Kiarostami had a point to make here, in my estimation, he missed it. We have a series of close-ups and nothing more. *