Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami scored a triumph at Cannes this year with his widely acclaimed Certified Copy, an ostensible return to narrative filmmaking. It follows a decade of little-seen experimental works, bound to be undervalued by some. On the whole, audiences would rather watch a bona fide performer (Copy’s Juliette Binoche) than they would, say, a floating piece of driftwood (one of the “stars” of Kiarostami’s Five Dedicated to Ozu). But it would be a shame if 2008’s Shirin, a brilliant meld of the filmmaker’s experimental and narrative tendencies, got lost in the shuffle.
There is a traditional story here, though it plays entirely offscreen. An audience of mostly women watches an adaptation of the medieval Persian romance Khosrow and Shirin. Kiarostami gathers them in strikingly composed clusters, showing their every subtle and varied reaction to the tear-jerking work before them. The kicker? There actually is no movie: As revealed in a behind-the-scenes featurette, Kiarostami filmed Shirin in his living room, directing each of the audience members through their responses while they looked at a fixed point. He then recorded a detailed soundtrack with actors and effects, around which he cut the footage.
The range of emotion that Kiarostami captures is overwhelming. Knowing the creative specifics makes the film’s achievements all the more impressive. The greatest stories, Shirin implies, are contained in the human face. Additional extras on this single-disc release include two relatively recent shorts by Kiarostami (noteworthy) and an essay by esteemed critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.—Keith Uhlich
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