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“Ten” by Abbas Kiarostami

The fixity of the frame leads one to see/notice what one normally doesn’t see/notice: a myriad of gestures, facial expressions, the jewelry on the driver’s hands, the play of light on the persons’ bodies and on the inner surface of the car, countless details and events happening outside the car.

What one can see through a car window is inevitably limited from a physical standpoint. Moreover, looking through the window of a car in motion, it’s as if one can only perceive reality in fragments, sequentially. One longs for totality and unity (a cinema that could record everything that is, was and ever will be). But here is the paradox: due to the fixity of the perspective I was talking about, and the ensuing intensification of our attention and our involvement, one becomes capable of noticing the inherent totality in the fragment (I recall that quote from Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”)

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Stills from “Ten” by Abbas Kiarostami

One questions what goes on in the invisible realm: what does X. think about while staring through the windshield? What thoughts and feelings hide behind a certain facial expression or a certain look? Or: how does the prostitute look like? I’ve always been fond of the concept of the ambiguity of the real: in frame no.3, does the child frown because of the sun or is he secretly smiling?

An ongoing curiosity as to what lies outside the frame – what is drives (no pun intended) one to want to know what is not. (In a way, though, outside the frame there is only the void, because what lies within the frame is itself mere illusion: shadows on the wall or pixels on the screen.)

Truth (if truth is the goal) can be found in the mundane, in the apparently trivial aspects of life, while having a conversation during a car ride. Each of the car trips is taken with a certain goal in mind: a person has to go from A to B and the conversation is secondary, in the sense that it arises circumstantially – but, as least as far the viewer is concerned, it’s the conversations that matter, not so much where a certain someone has to go to or where they come from. 

At one point the driver says that she has more important things to do than to cook and vacuum the house. I know in what sense she says it, but, leaving that aside, who is to decide that vacuuming the house is less important than writing or taking photos? It’s all a question of perspective and involvement. One can become enlightened by vacuuming the house.

Truth might also be elusive, as elusive as trying to fix your gaze on a certain image while looking out the window of a car in motion.

There is drama as well, even if not in the more conventional way. It unfolds in and through the dialogues – a conflict between a mother and a son, women talking about their break-ups or hardships, tensions between a woman and, by all appearances, her ex-husband.

Fiction + documentary: what goes on inside the car might be directed, but most of what goes on outside of it is not and there is, potentially at least, an interplay between the two, an ongoing dialectic.

One thing that I believe cinema is meant, or at least is very suitable for, is to teach one how to see – the visible, as well as the invisible.

Featured image: still from “Ten” by Abbas Kiarostami