Shirin

Film , Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Maybe the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami could have called his latest film ‘Fifteen’ instead of ‘Shirin’, as it feels very much like the third part in a trilogy that began with ‘10’ in 2002 and continued with ‘Five’ in 2003. The first offered a series of frank conversations with a middle-class Iranian woman driving a car, all captured from a static camera fixed to her dashboard. The second consisted of five inspiring, ultra-minimalist snapshots of life and nature on a Bosphorus sea front. Both not only asked the viewer to delicately dismantle the miniature realist dramas presented on screen but also to consider the provenance of the images. What choices has the director made? What’s happening outside the frame? Is this ‘real’or an illusion?

And so it is with ‘Shirin’, a dramatic essay on specatorship which draws on the endless expressive potential of the human face. Recalling the aesthetic and emotional candour of Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’, the film consists entirely of close-up shots of beautiful Farsi actresses as they sit in what looks like a cinema and watch what seems to be a gaudy screen melodrama – a version of the twelfth-century Persian love-triangle poem ‘Shirin’ – which we hear, but don’t see. That Kiarostami has explained how he constructed the film – the sound and the image were produced separately – feels a little like a magician revealing his tricks, as we can make reasonable guesses ourselves by observing the women’s reactions or examining their surroundings.

It must be said that the experience of watching a succession of shots of faces might be taxing for some, but in severely limiting what we are able to see, Kiarostami asks us to appreciate and think about these images. The experience is more rich than appearances suggest. Juliette Binoche crops up briefly as one of the audience members, her baffling presence adding another cryptic dimension to the film. Some have suggested ‘Shirin’ belongs in a gallery, not a cinema, dismissing it as a purely abstract work to be dissected and written about rather than to be engaged with and admired. Actually, it works perfectly well on both levels.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday June 26 2009
Duration: 91 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Screenwriter: Abbas Kiarostami
Cast: Juliette Binoche