Anatomy of the close-up: A commentary on ‘Shirin’ (2008)

Abbas Kiarostami is one of those filmmakers who loves to push cinema into its next milestone with each of his films. However, we can see a clear and distinct similarity between every one of his works, regardless of how different they affect the medium. In 2008, Shirin shocked audiences with its simplicity, avant garde conception and its unwillingness to give into their temptations. First off, let me begin by briefly summarizing the film. Shirin takes place within a theater auditorium where we focus on roughly 112 women at a time, through close-ups, viewing an adaption of the Iranian tale Shirin by the poetic master Nezami Ganjavi. What might seem like a slow and dragging movie is actually an extremely well crafted study of the relationship between the viewer and the viewed. Kiarostami explains that “although you are free to imagine what you wish to, you have to see what I am showing. In fact, it is a combination of both freedom and restriction. I suggest you watch another world which is more attractive than the story. I believe if you dare let go of the story, you will come across a new thing which is the Cinema itself. In fact, I suggest you let go of the story and just keep your eyes on the screen.” Throughout the film, we only hear what these women are watching. Our imaginations begs us to wander off while we must constrain ourselves to remain in the theater with these audience members. Although, Kiarostami does lend out some mercy to his viewers.

By casting a primarily female-caste, he does this in the name of feminine beauty, passion, and their innate nature of loving so appropriate to the theme of the poetic tale they’re watching. Moving on, Kiarostami is obsessed with the human face. He loves reaction shots and facial expressions, which are the adorations of most filmmakers. He believes that the film is cemented, and essentially created, once the audience is affected by it. Not before, not after. Shirin is Kiarostami’s attempt in capturing the true essence of cinema. Films, wether we want to admit it or not, live for their viewers. They do not live before nor after we see them, but rather while we’re watching them. True, memories of them may be fond and referred back to; however, there is nothing like the first viewing of a film. This is what he tries to capture and keep. We are an audience viewing another audience seeing a film about love and suffering. They are emotionally connected to the story, as we are connected to them and their feelings. On a different note, the funny thing is that this audience consisting of actresses, were actually viewing a screen of dots. Not a movie, but rather a mere soundtrack. They see as much as we see yet they must unfold the story for us through their expressions. In fact, Abbas Kiarostami didn’t even have a fixed story in mind until after the completion of production. It was not until editing that they decided on the adaptation of the poetic tale. Shirin is a private film for Kiarostami whom sought a private relationship with his audience in which he finds it to be “a blessing to be able to look at someone so closely to detect feelings on their faces.”

Thank you for reading,

Omar Antonio Iturriaga

*:, Khatereh Khodaei