ten (2003)


director: abbas kiarostami

mania akbari, amin maher

The phenomenon that is Abbas Kiarostami usually begins with the wonder that a filmmaker, whose work obsessively questions the troubled social fabric of modern Iranian society, is allowed to work at all in an authoritarian theocracy. With his newest film, Ten, he has added another dimension to his work - a film that is, by most cinematic standards, barely a film at all.

There is no camera movement in the course of Kiarostami’s film. There is no lighting, no soundtrack, and apart from a bare handful of edits, scarcely any sense that a director had a hand in making the film. Without indulging in the self-conscious minimalism of the Dogme film movement, Kiarostami has outpaced them in one bold move, with a film as powerful as it is austere.

The film begins with a number - 10, of course - and the ringing of a bell, and a shot of a young boy sitting restlessly in the passenger seat of a car. He begins, without much preamble, to berate the driver - his mother - for being selfish, for deceit in lying when she divorced her husband, the boy’s father, proclaiming that she is driving him crazy, in language that barely seems like that of a child at all.

When the scene ends, the boy having stormed out of the car in a rage, there’s a cut, another number - 9, of course - and a static shot of the driver, a fashionable, attractive woman in shades and lipstick who constantly adjusts her obligatory headscarf. She is “the driver”; her name is unimportant, but her relationship with her little tyrant of a son will comprise the narrative backbone of the story, as she drives him, and a succession of other passengers, around the city.

There’s her sister, far less chic than the driver, sweating under her heavy black garments, a pious old woman, a prostitute, a young girl tormented by a bad relationship, and her son, Amin, who continues to berate her on his weekly visits, having moved in with his father. Their relationship provocatively suggests that the crisis of Islamic society is nothing more than the unresolved grief between mothers and their sons, though whether Kiarostami intended this to be his film’s principle message remains purely a matter for speculation.

Every dialogue and every awkward silence in Ten feels pregnant with meaning, as Kiarostami has trimmed away every chance for distraction. The film offers no easy moral, no clear diagnosis, but hums with urgency even after the (suitably austere) credits start to roll. It is, without fear of overstatement, as clear a work of genius as has been seen onscreen in years.