Zeitgeist Films // 2003 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jesse Ataide (Retired) // January 4th, 2005
"It's neither a documentary nor a purely fabricated film. Midway between the two perhaps..." -- Abbas Kiarostami on Ten
Ten marks a significant change in direction for revered Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, director of acclaimed international hits like Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us. After discovering the advantages of video while doing documentary work in Africa, Kiarostami realized video allowed him to report (in his words) an "absolute truth," and set out to make a film working these principles into the framework of a narrative film. The result was Ten, an examination of everyday life seen through the eyes of a young Iranian woman.
Ten opens as a young boy gets into a car, and from there the entire film unfolds in front of the unflinching gaze of two stationary cameras attached to the dashboard of the car. Throughout the course of the film the young boy and several other female characters receive rides in the car, and hold conversations with the unnamed driver (Mania Akbari, director of 20 Fingers) on issues ranging from appropriate female attire during public prayer to the qualities of a good mother to a married women's view of sex and relationships.
Many of the individual segments establish a startling emotional intensity in just several minutes' time. The viewer is forced to watch helplessly as familial and romantic relationships disintegrate (the driver and her young son discuss his anger over her divorce and subsequent remarriage; the driver picks up her sobbing sister just after her boyfriend has left her), but also serves as witness to the occasional moments of unexpected joy (the son's brief but bright smile as he and his mother joke about her deficiency as a parent).
On the surface it appears that the issues being dealt with in Ten revolve around women's rights in Iran (and Islamic cultures in general), but quite quickly it becomes obvious that Kiarostami and his actors are really touching upon various topics that transcend any specific culture and society and delve into the fundamental question about what it is to be human.
Ten uses a car as a means to examine life and humanity as a whole. Within the close confines of the front seat of a small beat-up car Kiarostami establishes a solitary world much like Alfred Hitchcock did in films like Rear Window, Lifeboat, and Rope, where a single set manages to evolve into a universe seemingly separate from the rest of humanity. In this environment, the characters allow themselves to be temporarily isolated from social expectations and freely converse, revealing facets of their personality and disclosing thoughts and opinions usually withheld from others they interact with. Perhaps the most moving moment of the film occurs when one of the passengers removes her tight chador (head covering) to reveal a secret that strikes out at both society and self. It is then that it is that the car has made a complete transformation into a location of personal disclosure and revelation not unlike that of a Roman Catholic confessional.
Also included on this Zeitgeist release is 10 on Ten, a 2004 feature by Kiarostami that analyzes Ten and the philosophical ideas that led to its creation. For 83 minutes (just seven minutes shorter than the feature film itself), the viewer is taken on another car ride with Kiarostami -- only this time he's the one physically behind the wheel. Echoing Ten's strict structure, 10 on Ten is broken up into ten separate sections where Kiarostami explains his approach on subjects ranging from shooting on video to how he directed non-actors in Ten. It's not necessarily the most engaging of DVD extras, but for those willing to sit and give another hour and a half of their lives to Kiarostami, the reward is an experience much like a one-on-one conversation with the director. 10 on Ten is ten times more informative than the average film commentary, which makes it an extremely valuable extra, particularly for Kiarostami fans.
But what can one say about the picture and sound? The picture looks exactly like one would expect a film shot on video inside a movie car to look like: a glorified home video. At times the picture is blurry, natural light turns the picture fluorescent, and the image itself can be grainy and spotty. The sound could be described in similar terms: it's efficient and nothing more. But then, excellent picture or soundtrack is not really necessary for a film of this nature. The defects are intentional stylistic choices.
It should also be noted that two of the special features (Kiarostami's filmography and production notes) are not found on the disc itself, but in the booklet located inside the DVD case.
Quite simply, the experimental nature of this film will not appeal to a large number of movie viewers. And at the same time, Kiarostami has risked isolating fans of his past work by creating a film that makes a radical departure from the rest of his filmography. To his credit, however, Kiarostami addresses these issues head-on in 10 on Ten as he attempts to explain his constantly evolving ideas on being a director, filmmaker, artist, and human being.
Not everybody is going to respond to the style and ideas Kiarostami presents in Ten, but for interested parties it's a fascinating examination of how humans interact during everyday life.
For remaining true to his stunning but strict artistic vision, Kiarostami is found not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Jesse Ataide; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Farsi)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "10 on Ten"
* Production Notes
* Director Filmography
* Official Site