Abbas Kiarostami, 2012
#10, 2013 Skandies
Once I get outside the top five on any given Skandies list, I only watch the movies that look interesting to me; the problem is, I also want to know as little as possible about them going in, so instead of doing the sort of research that might mean stumbling across spoilers, I assemble my watch list fairly arbitrarily. On top of which, my memory is terrible now, so by the time I get to any given movie, the chances are good that I will have forgotten what little information I did uncover about it, and will have no idea at all why it's on the list. That was certainly the case with this one — when I turned it on, I knew nothing about it but the title. Here's what Wikipedia says about it:
The French-Japanese production competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Well, it is true that I have recently become inordinately fond of French‑Japanese productions, but I put together my list before that happened. What else could have been the reason?
It was Kiarostami's second fiction feature made outside his native Iran, following Certified Copy (2010), which was shot in Italy.
Ah, yes, that would be it: I liked Certified Copy, so when I saw Kiarostami's name, onto the list this went. And… though there's a certain family resemblance, this is no Certified Copy. After it was over I poked around online to see what other people had come up with to say about it, and the reviews I found amounted to a bunch of long-form shrug emoticons. There doesn't seem to be much to it: a call girl's pimp sends her out on a job over her protests, and she arrives at the apartment of an elderly professor emeritus who is much more interested in making her some soup than in any carnal activities. The next day, he ferries her around town so she can run errands, and encounters her boyfriend, a violent stalker type who's in a rage over the mounting evidence that the girl is in fact a prostitute. This makes for a good example of why I bother writing these articles, because if I didn't, I probably would have just gone "uh, okay, whatever" and never thought about this movie again. But since I had to think of something to say, I gave the movie some more thought, and to my surprise, I think I discovered a recurring theme: over and over we see people asserting an intimacy that does not actually exist, at least not prior to the assertion. For instance:
- The boyfriend, a total stranger to the professor, walks up to his car,
taps on his window, and asks for a light for his cigarette.
Who does that?
- When the professor asks the boyfriend who he even is, the boyfriend
asks to actually get into the car so they can talk.
Who does that?
- The boyfriend explains that he plans to ask the call girl to marry
him, even though, as the professor points out, their relationship seems
extremely rocky — the proposal could hardly be less appropriate
under the circumstances
- For his part, what is the professor doing there?
The boyfriend assumes he must be the call girl's grandfather, because no
other relationship springs to mind that would lead to an octogenarian
driving a college-age girl to school and then waiting by the curb to
drive her to her next stop.
Call that a failure of imagination, but I too did not realize that that
sort of thing was part of the standard john/escort transaction
- When the call girl gets beaten up by the boyfriend, she calls the
professor for help — again, a man she had only met a few hours
earlier, and with whom her conversation up to that point had been pretty
- While the professor is getting his car serviced, a man recognizes him
and acts as though they are old friends.
It turns out that the man had taken a large lecture course from the
professor thirty years ago, and seems rather surprised not to be
- The professor has a horrible neighbor who regales the call girl (a
total stranger) with a long, intolerable story about her own thwarted
romance with the professor, which seems to be a matter of her spying on
the professor through her window and imagining a lot of drama
- And of course the very nature of prostitution is that the client purchases physical intimacy for which there is no pre-existing basis
As odd as all of this behavior may seem — and the above is just a sampling — it does seem to me that it touches upon a pretty common pattern in human interaction. I remember that when I was in college and had an inkling that there might be a potential for a relationship with someone, I tended to assume that long time scales had to be involved — like, it's January now, so maybe over the course of this semester we will slowly grow friendly enough that by the time finals roll around we might exchange addresses, and then write letters to each other over the summer, and in such a wise develop the sort of deep friendship that could lead to something more… perhaps as early as this fall! And of course none of these potential relationships ever turned into actual ones, because the young women in question would soon give up on waiting for me to make a move. It was only later that I learned that, when you're outside of a setting (such as high school) in which you've known everyone forever, at some point you have to make a conscious decision that, hey, you know what? We haven't known each other terribly long, but so far, I like you a lot and you seem to like me too, so what say we just treat each other as if we already had the sort of close bond that normally takes more time to establish? And soon you actually have accumulated enough memories together to retroactively justify the intimacy. Because time, she doth fly, and usually very quickly. Though occasionally not quite quickly enough.