As far as I know, the above photograph of Juliette Binoche in Iran doesn’t come from Shirin, the latest feature by Abbas Kiarostami, which just premiered in Venice. And I’m certain that the two photographs of Binoche below, which I’ve found elsewhere on the Internet, doesn’t come from this film, even though Binoche’s trip to Iran was at Kiarostami’s invitation, and she’s generally credited as the “star” of his new film. For one thing, most accounts seem to agree that Binoche doesn’t wear any makeup in Shirin, and she appears to be doing just that in all three of these photographs.
Judging by some early reviews of Shirin–the best of which is probably Ronnie Scheib’s in Variety, and several of which are usefully grouped together by David Hudson in GreenCine Daily–it’s a development and expansion of “Where is My Romeo?”, Kiarostami’s segment in last year’s Chacun Son Cinéma, in which a wide assortment of females are seen responding to an unseen and possibly imaginary film of Romeo and Juliet. And there’s reason to believe that the unseen film apparently being responded to by Binoche and a good many Iranian actresses in Shirin–apparently an adaptation Farrideh Golbou’s poem “Khosrow e Shirin” by Mohammad Rahmanian, with a very elaborate soundtrack–is imaginary as well.
Many reports and reviews are decrying Kiarostami’s progressive abandonment of his arthouse audience ever since 10, and largely equating this change of direction with a rejection of narrative and storytelling. What they’re usually leaving out is that Kiarostami’s dedication to narrative illusion has remained a near-constant in everything from some of the dialogues in 10 to the final sequence in Five (2003) to “Where is My Romeo?” to Shirin, where not only is the unseen film imaginary, but reportedly the entire film was shot in Kiarostami’s living room with a few chairs, and each actress was asked to gaze at a blank screen. One can trace the same tendency all the way back to the imaginary reverse angles of Kiarostami’s last narrative features, Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, which also might be described as audiovisual variations on the famous Kuleshov experiment. And the theme of deception can be traced all the way back to such earlier films as The Traveler (whose young hero employs a camera without film) and Close-up. So regardless of whether or not Kiarostami is abandoning his arthouse audience, his commitment to fiction and fooling the audience clearly remains intact. [8/31/08]
I’ve just discovered that the comment concluding my Afterword to my article about Manny Farber on this site was grievously mistaken and misinformed. So I’ve just added this letter from Patricia—written in response to a John Powers broadcast about Manny on NPR’s Fresh Air—to my Afterword as a postscript, but I also would like to highlight it here.—J.R. [8/28/08]
Dear John Powers,
Manny was not a “Conservative,” a “Libertarian,” a “Republican,” an anything. In his early twenties he tried to join the Communist Party but they didn’t want him. During WWII he tried to enlist in the army but they rejected him. After inviting him to join, it took just one meeting for the New York Film Critics Circle to ask him to leave. He came home that night saying, “They fired me.” He also told me that even a therapist in Washington had “fired him” for not working hard enough. Manny was not a Republican because he never knew any. He didn’t quarrel with them because he was never around them. He quarreled with the people he knew: artists, writers, teachers, carpenters. When he saw smugness, complacency, and superiority — and often those qualities went together — then he would get going, and separate himself from them. He did not vote for Bush twice. I know, because for ten years I was the family driver, and he didn’t want to go to the polls. (His license had been taken away for reckless driving.) I don’t know about Bush once because I was in another booth. But I do know how much he revered FDR, that he voted for Jimmy Carter, for Bill Clinton twice, even had a Jesse Jackson moment, and loved Mario Cuomo and Barack Obama. Obama thrilled him and he fretted about his winning. He and I both voted for Obama in the Democratic primaries. This I know because he was by then very ill and unsteady on his feet and he needed to fill in the form three times before getting it right. A bushy-bearded guy (our polling place is in a neighbor’s garage down a dirt road) allowed it and asked afterwards, “Seen anything good lately, Manny?” So three times in public view he voted for Obama and I could get the polling guys to testify to that. Manny thought Barack was a new Lincoln — one of the great ones.
Manny was a believer in America. His parents escaped from Russia and raised him and his two brothers in a small house on the Mexican border. That’s another story.
I loved him very much
Patricia Patterson, his wife
P.S.: Other than the political misinformation, I thought your piece was lovely and accurate. Would you please post this letter under your article, on the Fresh Air site.
I’m a member of PEN, and Nick Burd, their Literary Awards Program Manager, just forwarded to me the following note from Barbara Epler at New Directions:
Dear Jonathan Rosenbaum,
I was reading through PEN’s very interesting “What are we missing?” forum, and saw your SÁTÁNTANGÓ suggestion, and just wanted to say we are waiting on the delivery of its [English] translation by the great George Szirtes, eagerly waiting, and will publish it as soon as we can. (We already have his translations of László [Krasznahorkai]’s THE MELANCHOLY OF RESISTANCE and WAR & WAR.)
I thought you’d be interested — and, by the way, we are always interested in hearing suggestions from readers who seem on our wave-length so if you have more ideas, please let me know.
All the best,
P.S. (from JR): THE MELANCHOLY OF RESISTANCE is the 1989 novel that served as the basis for Béla Tarr’s 2000 film WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES. And SÁTÁNTANGÓ (the film) has recently been released in a box set by Facets Video. [8/21/08] Afterword, 2012: The English translation of the novel has finally been published.
Check out Chris Fujiwara’s just-posted article at Moving Image Source, comparing audience responses to Douglas Sirk movies in Japan and the U.S.–a fascinating read. [8/18/09] An update, one month later: Fujiwara’s article on Jacques Tourneur’s Stranger on Horseback on the same site, which just prompted me to order and see the DVD, is also highly recommended. [9/18/08]