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TEN (director/writer: Abbas Kiarostami; cinematographer: Abbas Kiarostami; editor: Abbas Kiarostami; music: Howard Blake; cast: Mania Akbari (Driver), Amin Maher (Amin); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Abbas Kiarostami/Marin Karmitz; Zeitgeist Films; 2002-France/Iran-in Farsi with English subtitles)
“Often provokes humor and refreshing insights.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (“A Taste of Cherry”/”Through The Olive Trees”/”ABC Africa”) has created a deceptively simple experimental film, shot on digital video, that is filmed entirely from the dashboard of a car in his further attempt to reinvent the cinema. It uses two camera angles– one for the driver’s seat, the other for the passenger’s seat. It involves ten short episodes set in the congested and lively streets of Tehran; it takes place over several days and features a pretty twentysomething female taxi driver (Mania Akbari), who is divorced and remarried. She’s wearing a chador (shawl) as she navigates the busy streets. The film acts as a fly-on-the-windshield as it eavesdrops on the driver’s impromptu and sometimes tense conversations with her troubled pre-adolescent son Amin (Amin Maher) and at least six women passengers including her sister. It plays best as a breezy somewhat cerebral look at contemporary Iran as seen through the woman taxi driver’s eyes. It brings about topics such as love, sex, marriage, divorce, parenthood, prostitution, women’s independence, identity, desire and religion. These topics are dished out with a surprisingly easy banter and in a loosely woven spirit that often provokes humor and refreshing insights. Besides giving us a reality check over the position of women in Iranian society, it delves into Kiarostami’s usual probing questions about reality, fiction and truth.

It covers a wide gamut of emotions as the middle-class driver during the ten short rides does the following: argue with her unhappy and obnoxious son who resents mom’s new hubby and that she asked for the divorce (In order to get a divorce in clerically ruled Iran, mom had to testify that her husband was a drug addict—which upsets the kid that his dad had to be humiliated in that way by such a lie) and blocks out her responses by covering his ears and telling mom she talks too much without saying anything, cajoles a passenger whose boyfriend is filled with contradictions over marrying her, matches wits with the ‘God only can save us’ chatter of an elderly holy lady who goes to the mausoleum three times a day to pray for her miserable existence to get better, questions a proud young hooker of the night (played by an actress since the director couldn’t find a real prostitute willing to play the part) why she chose that career, does her best to cheer up the same young woman from before who is filled with both laughter and tears after she finally learns her boyfriend rejected her and as a reaction has shaved her head without knowing why and in the last ride mom takes a calmer but still demanding Amin, who is shuttled back and forth between her house and his father’s for overnight stays, to stay with his grandma as the kid requested. Episode one (the longest) and ten (the shortest) bring the film full circle around and give the narrative its bookend symmetry, as it begins and ends with the relationship between the working mother and her confused and seemingly oppressed son.

Kiarostami had originally wanted to center the narrative on a psychologist who due to renovations to her office was forced to carry on sessions with her patients in her car. But the idea soon proved to be unfeasible. The taxi driver version enables him to still get across the naturalistic confessional conversations as therapeutic but without seeming in the least bit as clinical studies. Though all the conversations seemed banal, cumulatively they add up to something lyrical. The only conversation that seemed out of place was the one with the cackling prostitute, who didn’t seem to have anything to say that didn’t seem labored and testy.

This minimal film is thought of by the director himself as a film he initiated and then got out of the way, letting it go where it would. In his mind, the film didn’t have a director. But what’s strange, despite his pronouncement, the brilliant film has his fingerprints all over it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”