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SHIRIN (director: Abbas Kiarostami; screenwriters: Mohammad Rahmanian/from the story “Khosrow and Shirin” by Farrideh Golbou/based on the medieval poem by Nezami Ganjavi; cinematographer: Mahmoud Kalari; editors: Abbas Kiarostami/Arash Sadeghi; music: Heshmat Sanjari/Morteza Hananeh/Hossein Dehlavi/Samin Baghchehban/Sheikh Farid/Aldin Attar; cast: Manoucher Esmaieli (One of the many narrators), Mahnaz Afshar (Woman in audience), Taraneh Alidoosti (Woman in audience), Juliette Binoche (Woman in audience), Golshifteh Farahani (Woman in audience), Niki Karimi (Woman in audience), Khosrow Khosrowshahi (Woman in audience), Taghi Kameli (Woman in audience), Freidoun Esmaieli (Woman in audience), Minou Ghaznavi (Woman in audience); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating:NR; producers: Abbas Kiarostami/Hamideh Razavi; Cinema Guild; 2008-Iran-in Farci with English subtitles)
“A unique movie viewing experience.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (“Taste of Cherry”/”Close-Up”/”The Wind Will Carry Us”) directs a gimmicky conceptual experimental movie about a conventional movie we can hear but not see. The movie, which doesn’t exist except for a soundtrack, is played in the living room of the director and before an audience of some hundred actresses in the audience (the only European isthe French actress Juliette Binoche) and all are adorned by head scarves. The actresses are directed by Kiarostami in how to react to the imaginary film they are watching.

They are pretending to be watching a film with a subject well-known to Iranians–the 12th-century poem by Nezami Ganjavi. It’s built around a romantic triangle involving Princess Shirin of Armenia, the prince of Persia who becomes King, Khosrow, and the artist stonemason Farhad. The young princess is courted by these two contrary men.

If you’re a viewer who is not part of the movie, you are invited to get into the narrative through the soundtrack, the reactions of the female actresses’ in the audience (crying, laughing, being most attentive and fidgeting as they are thinking about their own love life while watching unseen by us “three dots on a sheet of white cardboard off-screen“) and through one’s own imagination.

It makes for a unique movie viewing experience, that gives an alternate way of both making and viewing movies than the usual Hollywood commercial way of manipulating an audience. Apparently made to show that Kiarostami, after some criticism, could also make an accessible commercial and inaccessible noncommercial film within the confines of his artistic experimental techniques. If that, indeed, was his aim, he succeeds as a provocative filmmaker, one of the best living filmmakers around, someone not afraid to take chances to bring new dimensions to cinema even if it means putting himself on the firing line.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”