A unique and euphoric film that can't be categorized
This review comes from my Letterboxd profile, where I review every film I see.
How in the world do you describe something like this? It's pretty difficult, to be honest, but Close-Up is unlike any film I've ever seen. I suppose the idea of a film that combines real footage with reenactments isn't something that's not all that new in concept, but when even the reenactments are portrayed by the real people who experienced these events, the film takes on a whole new meaning that other documentaries like this wouldn't be able to nail. It blends together these reenactments and the real footage so seamlessly that I genuinely couldn't tell which scenes were re-shot or not until after the end of the film when I looked it up. Sure, I could have made a good guess at which ones were real and gotten it right, but even the scenes that in retrospect I can tell are reenactments still feel so authentic that it never feels like they are. This film captures this event in such a raw, palpable way. It covers everything from inherent attachment to art to self-identity to the ways we express ourselves to the grey area between legal and moral and even human nature as a whole. It does that by constantly allowing each principle player to explain their side of the story, even when it's flawed, even when it doesn't always add up. There are exchanges of dialogue in this movie involving the making of movies and acting and bringing a film to life that I think in literally any other context might come across as some of the most pretentious dialogue ever put to film. In fact, there are so many ways in which the ideas in this movie are assembled could have come across as pretentious, narcissistic, and completely hollow -- if the entirety of the movie was reenactments and only SOME of the real people played themselves, if certain scenes that were written as reenactments were slightly altered in dialogue to get a point across, etc. However, not only are the majority of the scenes that involve some of this dialogue COMPLETELY UNSCRIPTED and therefore completely genuine, the scenes that are reenactments never feel like they condescend to the audience's intelligence. This is a movie where you can get away with exposition by just having the characters say it, because not only is it a real trial with real people talking about their real motives, but even in the reenacted interviews, the aspects of the individual that every person talks about in this movie is something that no one would want to get across by making it complicated or filling every one of their words with symbolism. They would want to explain their thoughts to the point, no dodging around it, this is how they feel and this is what they know and it never comes across as anything but authentic. Not once.
I looked it up briefly as well, because I couldn't help but wonder how Iranian audiences actually saw this movie. Was the message more or less profound to them? Does the dialogue sound more or less authentic when you can actually understand Persian and aren't constrained to the English subtitles, which are probably very abbreviated and only convey the most important information out of the original dialogue? Turns out Iranian audiences originally didn't like this movie, and it didn't gain a true following until it spread out to other countries. It's absolutely fascinating to me that a film can be initially disliked in its country of origin, then have a completely new meaning assigned to it once it leaves that country and becomes beloved by millions of people across the world. That is just so intriguing and fascinating to me. I saw this film as a completely authentic, personal, and empathetic look into what is, on the surface, an absolutely bizarre and borderline unethical situation, but becomes so much bigger than it initially appears once you realize why the situation occurred. I wonder if Iranian audiences have come around on this movie now. I wonder what people who speak this language fluently think of this movie. I wonder what people who had absolutely no idea that reenactments were filmed for this movie think of it because I genuinely went into this movie thinking that all of the footage was reenacted before halfway through the movie when I realized it might not be and I could no longer tell what was actual footage and what wasn't. There really isn't a perfect way to describe this movie, I don't think. Sure, you could call it a documentary with elements of drama, you could call it a narrative-documentary hybrid, but I don't think even those categories quite do this film justice. It's one that I think needs to be seen to be completely understood, and I don't think there will EVER be another film like this one. I'm probably going to be thinking about this film for the rest of my life, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if this film made my top ten films of all time.
Letter Grade: A+