Orgeron, Devin, Framework
Curating Kiarostami Abbas Klarostami. by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.160 pp. $34.95 cloth; $16.95 paper.
As the Abbas Kiarostatni circle widens, so too does the need for solid scholarship both on this important filmmaker and on the context of Iranian images more generally. Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum's Abbas Ktarostami, part of the Contemporary Film Directors series edited by James Naremore for the University of Illinois Press, is a potentially important book-length entry into this expanding field. The collection of writings is at its best when its authors steer away from sometimes redundant discussions of specific films to focus more broadly on issues recurring across the body of Kiarostami's work and on placing his films in an international context. Saeed-Vafa's comments about the filmmaker's treatment of women, for example, are highly valuable. The book suffers, however, for its self-imposed interiority. The authors fail to engage with other deeply critical contributions to the growing literature on Kiarostami. In the States, this book is preceded and made possible by important, groundbreaking, and heavily researched work in written and verbal form by Ham id Naficy, Hamid Dabashi, Jamsheed Akrami, Godfrey Cheshire, and a host of others, whose scholarship is largely ignored here. This is due, in part, to the book's mission. More important than a figurative conversation among scholars and their scholarship in the field, the book suggests, is the literal conversation between Rpsenbaum and SaeedVafa. This is an interesting enough premise. Its cross-cultural intentions, however, sound more intriguing than the results, which are frequently repetitive, strangely autobiographical, and only intermittently illuminating.
The book is oddly conceived: a smart, elegantly written essay by Rosenbaum that does truly enter some interesting and new territory; an essay by Saeed-Vafa that, though insightful, especially with respect to the political context of filmmaking in Iran, reads like a series of not always reader-worthy journal entries on her own experiences with the filmmaker and his films; a dialogue between the two authors, too much of which revolves around why (in Rosenbaum's opinion) Howard Hampton was wrong in drawing connections between David Lynch and Kiarostami in a January 2000 article for Artforum called "Lynch Mob"; a five-page addendum that mentions the September 11, 2001, terroristattacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon before transforming, once again, into a conversation between the authors on Kiarostami's 10 (France/Iran/USA, 2002), causing at least this reader to question the pretext of calling this an addendum rather than simply integrating it into the larger work; two smartly organized interviews the authors conducted with Kiarostami in 1998 and 2000; some fax transmissions between the authors and the filmmaker on Kiarostami's A.B.C. Africa (Iran, 2001); and finally a ten-paragraph statement written by Kiarostami about 10 for the press at Cannes in May 2002. The interviews, fax transmissions, and statement are especially valuable and do, indeed, provide an excellent introduction to the filmmaker and his worldview. The authors' questions are thoughtful and thought-provoking even if, as many critics have pointed out, Kiarostami's answers are at times mystifying. In fact, many of the issues raised in the interviews will make the reader long even more for a scholarly, book-length attempt to grapple with Kiarostami'swork. …