Monday, August 31, 2009
Been thinking about this movie for several days, Ayneh (The Mirror), directed by Jafar Panahi (1999). [Spoilers to follow, be forewarned]
It has an interesting structure, something about which caused me to relate it to ares of music I generally concern myself with here.
The movie begins with a simple enough premise: a seven-year old girl, one arm in a cast, leaves her school in Tehran one afternoon and her mother doesn't come by to pick her up. All her friends have gone home and the remaining school personnel are somewhat indifferent to her plight, eventually foisting her on a man with a scooter, who also seems relatively unconcerned with the young girl's actual safety. One of the clear subtexts in the film is the miserable way women are treated in Iran, their issues often dismissed out of hand if not derided. The girl wanders through the streets of Tehran, trying to get strangers to bring her home, a location of which she has only a vague idea. One of the fascinating aspects of the movie thus far is that it was shot on the streets of Tehran as is, cinema verité style so the viewer gets an excellent idea of the everyday activity taking place there, the massive amount of traffic through which she and others dangerously thread their way included.
Fine, all well and good. One is rather touched at her ordeal and the film is well-shot enough to maintain interest.
About 40 minutes in, the girl has secured a ride on a bus she has been told will head in the direction of her home. She's lodged herself near the driver but the front of the bus is reserved for men--women must huddle in the rear. There's something of an argument going on between the driver and the person who put her there when, all of a sudden, the young actress, Mina Mohammed Khani, breaks character and has something of a tantrum, declaring, "I don't want to act anymore!", removes her hijab and the fake cast on her arm and angrily leaves the bus, seating herself on the steps of a nearby store. A camera pans toward the back of the bus where we see the film crew in a dither, the director ordering a female adviser to talk with Mina, to try to convince her to continue. Several people try to no avail, mina continuing to change into her own clothes, in a total snit.
Panicked discussion ensues among the crew. One of them realizes, however, that Mina hasn't removed her mic an that they're still able to pick up transmission. Realizing she's in the middle of Tehran, far from her home, in essentially the exact same situation as her character (hence, "The Mirror"), they make the rather amazing (casual? callous? negligent?) decision to continue to film her from the bus. So they do, following her going from person to person, place to place, trying to get home.
It's a pretty amazing shift as the viewer goes from more or less caring about her character to seriously caring about the welfare of this little girl, wandering through traffic, engaging not always kind strangers, getting into cars, etc. (though she does so with determination and pluck).
But it was the act of being willing to change gears mid-film that made me think of some (possibly weak) connection to certain areas of music. Going from a scripted form, though loosely so and incorporating much improvisation, to an entirely freely improvised one where the structure is outside the control of the director and forms on its own. I guess more than anything, it was that willingness, even if it was more or less forced by circumstance, to go with something outside oneself, to surrender to happenstance with the knowledge that, maybe it'll lead to something even better than you'd planned (which it certainly does, in this case). Something akin, say, to Rowe's use of radio in AMM, to be willing to "disrupt" a perfectly fine performance with an intrusion of the unknown that may or may not be appropriate, that may cause the concert to crash and burn or not.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it but, whatever, it was a unique kind of viewing experience for me. (I'm almost counting on being told the dozens of times this trope has been used before....) Perhaps it has to do more with decisions made in real-time, a rare enough occurrence in a film that (unlike, say, Godard) didn't begin the day with that in mind as a possibility.
Worth seeing for any number of reasons, anyway.