An Interview with Dr Mohammad Sanati
The Usual Suspect
In recent times, among all kinds of cinematic analyses, film fans pay more attention to psychoanalytical interpretations. The most obvious of this interest is the vast readers of Slavoj Zizek’s controversial analyses who follow every one of his writings and speeches on the internet and in different publications. For over two decades, his use of film clips to interpret psychoanalytical theories of Jacques Lacan, has caused a huge uproar and has brought about an onslaught of psychoanalytical film reviews. Iranian translators have also been mesmerized by Zizek’s works more than any other type of film books, and these books have helped to give birth to a new kind of film criticism, out of which came the idea for the following interview, where we have talked to Dr. Mohammad Sanati, a psychoanalyst, an author and a book reviewer, about Abbas Kiarostami’s films from the point of view of psychoanalysis. Dr. Sanati’s analyses are sometimes so different from conventional film critics that may even be shocking.
Jacques Rivette once said about Taste of Cherry: “Abbas Kiarostami’s works are always beautiful, but it doesn’t look like he is enjoying any discoveries any longer. I wish he could get out of his world for even a moment. I hope to see something more astonishing from him, and I am sure people will pay attention to it. My God, how nosy I am!” This was a decade ago, and Kiarostami has tried his hand in every kind of experiments in cinema and has tried to experience another world all together. Some of his films have had success and some have failed with the audiences. Yet even those who don’t like his films can’t deny the fact that every one his films in the past decade have caused a huge shock in the way Kiarostmai has been able to experiment a new area of relating a story, and film by film, he has reached more perfection in his radical point of view regarding film structure.
His insistence on a more specific and personal viewpoint on cinema has brought about different interpretations about him. Even a critical book was published in Iran which rejects all his experiments in cinema. However, now Kiarostami has abandoned all experimentations, and instead of using video art of opera, has made a film with famous actors and a more conventional type of story. Certified Copy is a sudden change in Kiarostami’s filmmaking process, in the way it is a return to a traditional way of storytelling which is more familiar to audiences, while those true Kiarostmai fans can still find the familiar signs in this work as well. This interview begins with a review of Certified Copy, but it doesn’t stay in this film’s confines. We have tried to encompass the whole cinema of Abbas Kiarostami as a controversial phenomenon, a cinema, which is now, even more astonishing than ever.
When we look at Abbas Kiarostami’s cinematic output, it’s as if he opens a parenthesis with Report and closes it with Certified Copy. Both films in a way deal with a couple and their confrontations and desires. It looks like Kiarostami has used a flash back after thirty some years to recount his old story in a new take. Can we really relate these two films together? Do these two films resemble each other at all?
If by “opening a parenthesis” you mean to separate these two films from the rest of Kiarostami’s oeuvre, and review them somewhere else, because they deal with emotional/sentimental/sexual relationship of a man and a woman, we might fall too far away from the reality of Kiarostami’s cinema, since after Report he has also made Through the Olive Trees, Ten, Tickets, and Shirin which also deal with the relationships of men and women. However, if what you mean is that in all his films from Report to Certified Copy he has recounted stories of men and women, and has ended this cycle with Certified Copy, then what do you want to do with the other films he has made in the same period, like A Taste of Cherry, ABC Africa and Five, where he has not dealt with the same theme. But I agree that Kiarostami has concentrated on the relationship of men and women in Report, Ten, Tickets and Shirin and has had a doubtful outlook on this relationship. As though wondering whether there could ever be an understanding between the two. Of course, Report, the beginning point of this search, is not solely concentrated on the man/woman relationship, but we also see a lot the man’s daily life in his office, in the casino and other places. It’s a collection of social pathology with the male character acting as its axis. He has another life outside the house which does not involve – and is not related to – his wife. The female character stays at home and takes care of all the chores. The husband makes it clear that issues such as income and rent are within the boundaries of the man’s authority, so she shouldn’t concern herself with them. Thus, the woman is a small part of the man’s life, and there is a limited relationship between the two, with the minimum amount of dialogue and verbal communication. As though marital life doesn’t mean anything! As though they are just flat-mates, with a baby, who sometimes acts as the go-between, or a messenger, and sometimes is the subject of their fights, and at yet other times is nothing more than a bargaining chip. Otherwise, each one has his/her own private life, with the bed acting as their sole “common frame”. In Report if there is an evacuation notice delivered, the wife receives it and gives it to the baby to deliver it to her husband, and he is lying on the bed when he gets the notice. But in Ten, there is a rupture in the relationship: they are officially divorced, with their child (a seven or eight year old son) still acting as the go-between. The man (the father of the boy) brings him at a certain time to the woman (the mother) and takes him back at a certain time. We meet the child one more time in Certified Copy, who is a little older now, while he was barely a two year old toddler in Report. But in his other films – Homework, Where is My Friend’s House? And Life Goes On- till Certified Copy, there is a seven or eight year old schoolboy who has an essential role in the story, and most of the times is related to an adult male character who is often the narrator / storyteller. Sometimes there is also a mother, but not always. In The Wind Will Carry Us the boy acts as the go-between between a man who has come to a village on a request by a friend to make a documentary about the friend’s dying mother and … I think this seven-eight year old boy should be considered one of the most important symbols in Kiarostami’s cinema from the point of view of psychoanalysis. A child is sometimes Kiarostami’s narrator, and sometimes his alter ego, and at other times, such as this film, he is the narrator’s rival, and a triangle is formed when he gets involved, which we will discuss a little later. For now, however, while we are discussing Certified Copy, this child is making an objection regarding the woman’s relationship with a man – the woman being his mother, who, by the way, has no name! – who he guesses is going to replace his father, and does have a name, and a famous one at that: James Miller, an author and a scholar.
Why is it that the woman has no name and the man is famous? Looks like in Kiarostami’s other films also women have no names?
It seems names are not an essential part of his films. Since Juliette Binoche has a famous name and also overshadows his partner as an actor, she has a strong presence throughout the film. But the fact remains that James Miller seems to be the narrator, and the film begins with his “renowned name”. As though everything should begin with the ‘Name of the Father’. The film’s first shot is of a table, his book – a symbol of his new Logos – placed on one side, while the book’s cover shows two symmetric mirrored pictures, with the book’s title and “his name” printed on it, and on the other side we see a microphone which is supposed to transpire “his Voice” to the audience. Thus we have his name in print, and his voice that will be amplified several times over to reach the audience. Then, the translator begins introducing him with his name and the book’s title. A book written in English, and translated into Italian; another COPY which is supposed to be as good as its ORIGINAL. So it’s his name that is repeated several times, first in print, then in audio form, and a third time in a different language, which signifies his, i.e. James Miller’s authority and his abundant supremacy. Especially in comparison with the film’s main female character whom we see first at the end of the hall, next to Miller, and in a position of humility, modesty and asking for a favor (an autograph). When she sits down, she is either using “sign language” to communicate with her son or talks to the translator in a low voice, which means she is not using “real voice” in the whole scene. Now, compare the amplified name of the man with the “name-less” and “voice-less” woman to realize what a domineering position the man has at the beginning of the quarrel that will ensue. [And, don’t forget that women in our society, mostly, were not called by their names! Even, now, many husbands, in traditional part of Iranian society, will not call their wives, but by the phrases such as ‘our house’ or ‘the mother of children’ or…!]
Anyway, Apart from the unbalanced share of power between the two, the film begins with James Miller’s name and ends with his medium shot. Therefore we can say that the narrative occurs (in other words: seen and heard) in James Miller’s domain. She gets involved in an unbalanced struggle with Power, although it’s her who has invited Miller to her antique shop, but it doesn’t look like she is playing in her home field, since the narrative is happening in the man’s domain. She can feel her own defeat from the very beginning in her shop’s cellar. But she acts like a tragic hero who goes to her death knowing she has no chance in this struggle!
An important point about the man-woman equation in Kiarostami’s films is that the relationship looks more like a tragedy than a melodrama. Even you look at this film as if the man and the woman are about to enter a fight, and are going to try to knock each other out!
Exactly! Although the couple in this film is not Iranian, but the director is, and a part of this whole thing might be seen as a pathological reflection of married couples in our society. They need each other’s love and support, but they seem to be afraid of each other and there is little trust among them. Their relationship is often sadomasochistic. As if, they love each other at the climax of violence and outrage and humiliation. In Report we see them either fighting or in bed; the two instinctive sides of human beings, one being sexuality, and the other aggression! As though a relationship between a man and a woman can only be possible in an instinctive level. In Ten, the sexuality shows itself in the character of the prostitute. In Tickets in the form of aggressiveness, and in both Shirin and The Wind Will Carry Us in the form of death!
These two characteristics can be seen in Certified Copy as well. After a few quarrels, they arrive in a hotel room, and that’s where James Miller says goodbye to her, and it appears that both reach peace after passing through a crisis.
Yes, it’s a KIND of a peace! She has lied down on the bed, ready to accept her failure, and he is in the toilet, but he is obviously upset. Of course, in Certified Copy, compared to Kiarostami’s other films, the couple are having the most intellectual dialogue with each other, but in an aggressive and argumentative manner, wearing each other out. In Report there is a submissive kind of flirtation going on between them. In Tickets the man-woman relationship has entirely taken a ‘master/slave’ form. In all of them, however, we can see an element of fear and distancing.
this sense of distancing is also noticeable in Under the Olive Trees…
And in Shirin and Tickets as well. We hardly see any intellectual or emotional relationship between a man and a woman, or it’s reduced to a minimum. It seems their whole relationship has been reduced to verbal communication about daily needs; it’s sometimes a sexual need, and sometimes it’s formed because there is a child involved. Maybe this is not a real Relationship. It could be just a verbal communication to fulfill basic needs, a relationship that has occurred due to chance! Perhaps, an instinctive need could be the cause of this inevitability. Sometimes, the other one due to the fact that they are dependent on each other, like when they need services provides it, as it happens in Tickets. Sometimes their need to be loved, their need of a child, or their need of just “to be with the other” is due to the fear of being alone. Whatever it may be, the need of “ love” or “to love the other”, at least in the man’s case seems to be very much in doubt. In these films, the woman is more sentimental and emotional, while the man is more logical and rational. This is the same centuries old cliché showing differences among men and women in the West and the East, except for the sexual and physical differences. These differences also have been causing problems among men and women, taking it as far as impossibility.
Looks like this lack of communication has been the everlasting destiny of man, and even out of man’s control to make a difference in it.
As I pointed out before, looks like different patterns were designed for each sex in male-dominated societies, which both sexes have identified with, or have grown used to them, so the male became the leader, with a more realistic approach, using reason, and the female began to depend on him, taking the role of wife/mother, providing love. These two patterns worked for pre-modern and traditional societies. But this romantic and melodramatic relationship, in modern societies, and especially since the 20th century, when women were emancipated and left home to get involved in work environments along with men, have been gradually replaced with a more competitive and at times tragic relationships. In most of these films, the woman is emotional, but with a ‘strong personality’. Men are busy with their work, while the woman, even a queen Shirin, leaves her “crown” for love. And this is another fundamental difference of men and women. For instance, in Shirin, Kiarostami’s question may be “why would a woman abandon her life of splendor and glory of a queen? Is it for love?” And his answer may be that love is the main topic of a woman’s life. In this regard you may find similarities between Shirin and Certified Copy. In Certified Copy we have a woman likes to be considered a realistic, logical and rational person, while James Miller tries to look like a person who advocates simplicity and pleasure, an “easy-does-it” type of a person. Even in the first scene of the film, when introducing his book, he states he’d “rather be walking in the sun and enjoy the nature than be here talking [to you] about the book”. Or when she invites him to the cellar (the antics shop) where she works (and it may even be a place they both cherish) James says he doesn’t like the place, which shocks her. He is anxious and restless, and, reluctantly looking at the statues, says he studies these works of art, but doesn’t like to get involved with them, because they are dangerous and he is afraid of them. He wants to leave the cellar and get into open air as soon as possible. It appears that James, as a man, not only doesn’t allow any emotional relationship to form between him and her, but he intends to show a totally professional approach (in the contemporary sense of the word) to his work. But throughout the film, he tries – with all kinds of justifications and reasons – to convince her that everything should be simple and natural. He prefers nature to original works of art. He even regards trees as more valuable works of art. He claims that the woman’s sister (Marie)’s simplicity and superficiality, is more attractive than complexities of a rational woman’s inquisitive mind. While, this doesn’t seem to be the case. He makes such a scene in the restaurant over the wine, which defeats all his claims. Of course some may say that he considers his stomach more important than his intellectual activities! However all of what he says about simplicity, nature and enjoying himself under the sun seem to be wishful thinking! It may also be another form of intellectual effusions of post-modern era, or a kind of “return to the nature” and “plainness of simple-minded masses”. There is no doubt that most of us would prefer spending a couple of days in the clean air of a village to the smog-filled Tehran. But we would wish to get back to town after a few days, since this “hellish town” has more to do with modern civilization. This doesn’t just signify the intellectual rhetoric of the 1960s West, prescribed especially for us in the Third World. This rhetoric began in the post-World War II era in Europe, and especially in the Sixties, with the Hippy movement and reaction to the mechanized world (and technological life) in France, UK and Germany. It wasn’t “our” problem in Iran! We had just started to take the first steps in mass production with a few textile factories and industrial assembly. But our intellectuals seemed to be contracted the “in-place disorientation” syndrome and thought Iran was located somewhere in Europe! They would voice the same views as those post-modern Western intellectuals, while nor those French intellectuals would leave their lives in the “metropolis” and go out there and live the rustic life they claimed was nobler, neither these Iranian intellectuals did that! Mr. James Miller is such an intellectual. There are no Western or Eastern or The Third World varieties to this type of intellectual. Whether you are under the influence of Sartre, Camus, Freud, Lacan, or Corbin, Fanon, Mulla Sadra and Suhrawardi, when you don’t have a pen or a microphone in your hand, and you have returned to your daily/real/tangible life, you can’t escape reality anymore, because you will simply get knocked out. On paper or on the screen, or in a speech, any impossible and fantastic claim can sound exciting and attractive. But, as the antic-seller heroine says: “what are you supposed to do when you face the damned reality?” Therefore Mr. James Miller should also inevitably return to “his own real self” and leave “his so-so claimed self” alone, which is the same as his “macho” self! With his so-called “phallus” which he uses in the end to urinate! But, on what? To which idea? Which emotion? Which experience? Which memory? Which relationship? Which game? Which player? Should he return to the memory of a relationship he used to have with a woman? Or returning to the memory of the relationship with a dominating and controlling mother? To love or to sex? What’s he getting rid of? Is he urinating on the reality? Or, on the dream? On himself? Or on someone else? On life, as a whole? Piss off to what? To who? It’s a shocking end, which goes back to his male realism and rationality. He can’t rid himself of these characteristics of male traditions. And she prefers – or needs – to enter an emotional world where she depends on the man, despite all her insistence on reaching the traditional male reasoning. Having a man next to her who can put his arm around her shoulder, and to maintain an emotional relationship, does not find a justification in the man’s behavior.
You’re saying women have a constant and strong presence in Kirarostami’s films, while others have been criticizing him for not including women in his films, or, at best, showing them as the same stereotypical “women” of Iranian cinema. They also accuse him of hiding them under a veil of secrecy, or giving them masculine characteristics altogether. For instance, in The Wind Will Carry Us we never see the face of the girl who is selling milk, and in Under the Olive Trees the main female character doesn’t have any lines, while another female character of the film, the assistant producer of the film-within-the-film, has masculine characteristics. In Ten the image provided from the prostitute is the same conventional image of commercial cinema of similar characters. As if the basic rule of Kiarostami’s films is to reflect the image of “the 3 wise women” with their hands covering the eyes, the ears and the mouth (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) and in a way, they represent a symbol of Eastern woman which is expected of him in the West.
Well, if some critics want to always see women in films flirting and showing off their sex appeal, you won’t have that in a Kiarostami film. But this has nothing to do with “not dealing with women” or “relationship of a man and a woman”. We can’t say the women’s image in Kiarostami’s films is the same image that Westerners want to see of us. They might like to see underdevelopment in our films, but the fact is that Kiarostami’s films have nothing to do with this kind of cinema. For instance, most of his films happen in villages, but I don’t see that Satyajit Ray type of realism in them, which is, by the way, present in other Iranian films with village life as their main setting. The village in Kiarostami’s films is not an Iranian village at all; it is often “a Kiarostami village”. It’s true that he uses non-actors in his films, but where in The Wind Will Carry Us and Under the Olive Trees you can see a typical “Iranian village”?
Going back to our discussion of women; is it true about the women as well? Does his image of women come out of his own personal life?
I think I have said this before: no one can escape his unconscious, unless they take treatment or use deep and hard self-analysis to bring their unconscious into the domain of their consciousness. Even then, his unconscious motives play a crucial role. Therefore, anybody, including any artist, who creates something, uses his/her own unconscious mind. Thus, not only Kiarostami’s works, but the works of all filmmakers, all novelists, and all arists – in general – have their roots in their own personal experiences; an conscious or dump up desires; even when they make a science fiction film or a historical/social film. For instance, you can see a strong contradiction in the characters of Kiarostami’s films, and that’s the contradiction of “what’s claimed to be” and “what’s really shown”. In all these films, incidentally, women are very strong and very much in control. It’s true that in Where is My Friend’s House we see the woman inside the house only, but we also feel her strength and her domineering attitude. And the boy shows his fear of this strength. In Ten we see a mother who’s driving a car all the time; as if to tell us that this woman is not going to stay inside her house any longer, just like the main character of A Taste of Cherry. This mother (in Ten) also has a strong and imposing character. In Tickets the female character reveals her true self completely. She is in her late 50s, with a young man working for her as a servant. Throughout the film she bosses and intimidates the young man so much that he finally runs away from her. Here also, the female character has authority over the male character. We see the same thing in Shirin as well. I think choosing Shirin has a message in itself. The fact that she is not “Layli” and comes from a dynasty who has instilled authority and glory in her; a unique characteristic of Kiarostami’s women. Therefore, I don’t think these characteristics match your definition of “Eastern woman”, proving that women in Kiarostami’s cinema are not submissive at all. One of the reasons Kiarostami’s women don’t get along with men and constantly collide with them is that the men aren’t able to convince – or satisfy – them, on one hand, and can’t accept them, as partners with equal rights or in reversed position, on the other.
We see this in Certified Copy as well, where she tells James Miller: “you constantly try to convince everyone in your book…” while in fact it’s her who is constantly trying to convince him that he is guilty…
Yes, and here both are psychologically strong characters who want to impose their will on the other. Well, as the old saying goes: “two kings can’t rule the same country!” This is not the typical submissive Eastern woman at all. She is a westernized and modern woman that I dare say has not yet learned how to become independent and emancipated. From this viewpoint alone, by which I mean from the viewpoint of dependency “to the other”, Kiarostami’s women have an Eastern aura about them, even when his heroine is a French woman. In fact, it’s their emotional side that makes them depend on the men. In Tickets when the young man leaves the woman, she desperately calls him back. In short, women at the peak of their egoistic power and despotism, have an emotional side that makes them dependent on men. This is very clear in Certified Copy where she sadly finds out at the end that she has to live in the real world. As far as Kiarostami himself, when we study his own life, we find out that these are experiences he’s had since his early childhood and also as an adult, and I am going to discuss that in more detail in a book that I am writing about him. In my opinion, these female characters in Kiarostami’s films are a reflection of “the mother”. I can clearly see in these films a very strong mother who’s not been recommended by those evil Imperialists! They are a figment of Kiarostami’s experiences and his own conscious or unconscious mind.
Maybe these personal experiences are the reason why he is targeted by so much criticism. His glance at different subjects has always been controversial. For instance he’s been criticized for always showing a distorted image of the Iranian society; that his neutral look at life bypasses its fearsome aspects. This happens when after the Roodbar earthquake he hangs on to life more than death, or when he makes a film about Aids, he talks more about the patients’ jovial mood. That’s basically why the critics say he is like a Buddhist monk who’s sitting on a rock, looking over everything hailing “life”, and very conservatively approves “life” in any form. Do you share the view that Kiarostami is neutral and conservative and replete with Buddhist ideas in his films?
I do not! I believe the pre-modern era violent and death – ridden Eastern worldview seems to be unique. I have written a lot about the roots of aggression, vengeance, tyranny, and ‘the culture of death’ in our own society. We have had so much violence and wars, in our history, from the Mongols invasion – or even before, through out Persian Empire and the fall of Empire under Arabs, Mongols and Turkmens, experiencing despotism, torture, pain, hunger and death, on the one hand, and a self imposed hardship, asceticism, and a death – ridden mysticism, on the other, that I think we have become so used to this style of life, Living in a prevailing culture of death for so long that we can’t tolerate, otherwise style of life! Therefore, we are so intolerant of someone who has a positive and optimistic look at life. It appears so unreal! What you just said derives from ‘the culture of death’. This viewpoint states there is nothing interesting and likable about life! This is either a mystic point of view, or a radical leftish destructive one! This is the main stream, Iranian mystic ideology (and not what is called “REND” and “RENDY”, in our mysticism which is a rare brand, rather friendly with this earthly life). The typical mystic stalker says “life is evil and we should get rid of it as soon as possible. Nothing mortal is worth loving”. In fact, we are deeply immersed in a death – ridden mystic worldview. Look at our culture. There are all kinds of treatises written, reproaching life in all its aspects. In an “ Introduction to death, in western thought” I have referred to Schopenhauer way of looking at the differences between Indians and Greeks way of life, which is very true about our mystic world out-look, even now. Yes! Life is full of misery and pain and violence, and we should try our best to get closer to death, and if we are unable to do so, we should keep on reverting to violence. This is what “death-centric” cultures believe in. The interesting part is that we usually equate violence and punishment with the concept of Scitilop (Politics). Where does that come from? Politics (Syasat in Persian) means punishment, and punishment has an intrinsic violence to it. Well, when we put these concepts next to each other, we may conclude, “an outlook that is devoid of violence is actually devoid of politics”. And this means a conservative outlook! Whereas the outlook that has a positive view of life is considered a progressive and utterly modern outlook. On the other hand, the “death-centric” outlook is violent and reactionary. Incidentally I believe very few of contemporary Iranian intellectuals have a “life-centric” outlook. In the 1960s, the hey day of intellectualism in Iran, most intellectuals were weltering in this hostility with earthly life. Basically artistic creation is a process by which the artist tries to create life out of death. The artist, like everyone else, wants to live, and fears death and destruction. He is utterly unhappy about the fact that this life leads to mortality. He seeks immortality. Thus, he is obligated to create in order to compensate the inevitable “end”. He has to create life – another reality – out of inevitable death. This is one of the signifiers that indicate Kiarostami is a modern man who creates life out of the cruel and widespread death in a landscape of earthquake and Aids.
I don’t agree with the notion that there is a Buddhist outlook in Kiarostami’s cinema. I think that is a characteristic of the critics’ outlook they have projected upon Kiarostami. I think Kiarostami is a rarity, in our society, with an outlook that projects life. Even in The Taste of Cherry, where Mr. Badiyi intends to commit suicide, we know it is life that he truly seeks. In The Wind will Carry Us, where everybody is expecting death, it is life that prevails. Kiarostami’s outlook is against the traditional Eastern outlook – whether Buddhist, Indian or the Iranian mystic type – which falls into the ranks of our New Intellectualism. This is a type of intellectualism that grew out of the 1990s with a positive view of life. This is also true of Sadegh Hedayat, who used to talk about hardships and torments of life, but he had a positive view of life as well. It is this modern outlook that the intellectuals of our era didn’t tolerate, about Hedayat and maybe they don’t want to tolerate it about Kiarostami either. It is actually Kiarostami’s view of life and death that caught my attention first. I do write about death a lot, but my aim is to defeat prevailing pre- and perhaps post- modern “culture of death’. Not that I deny death, but I believe we should leave death to its corner. As once Freud suggested, we must put back death in its real place, and to me, its real place is not at the begging, but mostly, at the end. I am opposed to living with death. I believe that is what has caused this static state in our culture. Our hostility towards modernity comes from this ‘culture of death’, which should be strongly resisted. Kiarostami has a similar outlook. In The Taste of Cherry, which directly deals with death, he points to a grave under a tree. Here he is actually introducing a kind of “connection” with the tree to point to life again. The way he looks at the nature is a true rarity that few people have tried in Iran.
This is where we can talk about Kiarostami’s love for nature. You, of course, explained about the villages in his films, but I wonder if Kiarostamil’s films are a call to recovering the purity in the nature? This is what most people usually confuse with admiring primitivism, sometimes thinking poverty is a privilege, and yet at other times they may prefer simplicity. Up against this image of the village and nature, we have the cities, and that’s where deceit and treason and fighting and all kinds of problems happen. Aren’t Ten, Close Up and Certified Copy as “city examples”, and Where is My Friend’s House, Under the Olive trees and Life and Nothing Else as “village examples” proofs of this?
I think this is a very superficial way of looking at the matter. When the narrator of Kiarostmai’s films goes to the village, accidentally witnesses the death that another character experiences. Confronting death, in his village films, is a very serious issue. We see an author in these films who doesn’t seek death, but death is present in his writings. The narrator usually communicates with children in these films. From the filmmaker’s point of view, the village’s elders are probably very similar to the elders who live in cities. We may witness sort of innocence in the village, but this innocence can be seen in the children only. Just like children in the city. Incidentally those seven/eight years old children in Kiarostami’s films are smart kids who don’t accept their parents’ culture. It’s the same with a French kid in Italy, a boy in the heart of Tehran or a village in the North of Iran; they simply do not accept what their parents tell them. The children in these films ask questions. And this is not an Eastern characteristic, because the Eastern outlook doesn’t allow questions. According to the Eastern outlook everything is absolute and perfect. ‘Utter certainty’, ‘no questioning’ and ‘no doubts’, are golden rules!! The narrator in Kiarostami’s village films communicates with children and they pose questions.
An important aspect of Kiarostami’s films is that he comes from documentary filmmaking. His first feature film is called Report. As if he’s tried to show us some aspects of reportage in front of us. In Homework also the narrator is a reporter who’s not lost his journalistic sense. All of his films have this report-like format and that’s why nothing is what it looks in reality. For instance, pay attention to dialogues in Kiarostami’s films. His dialogues sound more like interviews than a communication device. This is very obvious in Ten and The Taste of Cherry, and when we reach Certified Copy we see the same interview-like dialogue. After the book scene, when James Miller and the woman ride in a car, we see the same reporter-like point of view and interview-like dialogues. Even the conversation between the mother and son is like an interview. At one point the mother tells her son to look at her when he talks to her. It’s this reporter-like point of view that makes Kiarostami’s films unlike real life. As though he wants his outlook to say “No Comment.” It’s a critical outlook, seeking discovery without going into the margins. When you see the picture of the Saigon chief of Police with his pistol on the temple of a Vietnamese man, you know what’s happening, and you don’t need any comments or margins. I think one of the reasons Iranian audiences can’t quite communicate with his films is that they don’t look like Iranian everyday life, and there are little emotions seen in them. There is no character development and conventional storytelling in his films except for Certified Copy, Tickets and to a certain degree Ten. When we bond this reporter-like outlook with a lack of sentimentalism, and the life-centric view replaces the death-centric one, it is quite obvious that most of the audiences who are used to the culture of emotionalism, mysticism and death-centrism will not tolerate it. That’s why I am saying, that kind of critical view is a superficial way of looking at cinema. Those critics are expecting to see political slogans which kiarostami, usually does not offer. That sort of expectations belongs to the 60’s.
They were heavily under the influence of Sartre and they were bringing up the same discussions and approaches.
Yes, Sartre had a strong intellectual background and existentialist worldview behind him. But they turned him into a mystic stalker! Very similar to what they’ve done to Heidegger! Look at the Persian equivalent of existentialism? They translated ‘existence’ into the Persian word ‘VOJOOD’!. Existence referrers to the “being – in- this world” while ‘VOJOOD’ has a mystical dimension.
Another aspect of Kiarostami’s films is the change of identity and the way he plays around it. This is what happens in the core of Certified Copy. It starts when the woman poses as Miller’s wife, and he accepts to play the game. We see this same game played in Close Up where someone poses as Mohsen Makhmalbaf. In some of his older films, this change of identity takes different forms. Like in A Suit for Wedding the whole brouhaha is about a suit which can change the children’s positions. Looks like this is an important game for Kiarostami.
It’s not the game should look at. More attention should be paid to the reality itself in Kiarostami’s films, which is usually very painful.
Well, the narrator behind camera, tries to face reality, but constantly flees! As if, the whole reality is so painful which he prefers not to face. Therefore his characters try to act as if they don’t value the reality. Miller in Certified Copy is somewhat similar to Kiarostami himself. He says he is interested in open air and the nature. He says he studies originals and copies, but he doesn’t get involved with them. He even says he likes a simple life. But this is more like a wishful thinking. Some say we wish we were like these crazy people and we wouldn’t suffer the pains caused by life. Miller feels the same. I call this “the complicated simplicity!” At the end of Certified Copy the woman is on the bed while the man goes to the toilet to take a leak. What could this mean? I think this very “complicated simplicity” which is a contradiction in terms, can explain the whole film: characters claim one thing and act differently. The fact is that one wishes to be simple, but is very complicated. Kiarostamis films intend to be simple; looking at trees, roads, children, villages, people and events as they appear to us! No symbolism, no metaphor, no mysteries and no complications; just what our eyes can see naturally. But is Kiarostami’s cinema simple, as such?
Well, lets see what is in Certified Copy. We can view it, once from the point of view of the woman and say perhaps it’s ‘Projective Identification’. Or we can view it from the point of view of the man who’s the narrator, and I’ll get to that in a moment. In the first case, as if, she has some memories, which she “projects” on to him, and he accepts that and identifies with what is projected on to him. This is like taking refuge in dreams, to the “un-reality” which looks like a game. People in this game take other roles in order to be able to go on living. In this change of identity, the person takes refuge in his/her dream to run away from his/her solitude. Not only in this film, but in most of Kiarostami’s films, the main character is extremely lonely and tries different games in order to fill up the gap; an effort which is more like a dream. I think Certified Copy is an important film in Kiarostami’s career, since it has become a manifesto. He discusses all he believes in about art and man. If the basics of existentialism and Kiarostami’s outlook on man governed on Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, here his outlook of life is projected on the film. There’s a line in the film that says: “those who enjoy life should be admired.” In other point he says: “I don’t care if a work is original or copy. If a copy is so much like the original that confuses even the specialists, then it has some value of its own.”
Looks like the whole content of the film is reflected in its title: if she has taken him as her husband and enjoys it, then let her enjoy it, although they may enjoy the fights more than the joys of life.
Yes, and it seems they think the fights are the joys of life. This aspect of the film is very Eastern! Of course, it seems, many people through out the world get their pleasures, mostly from fights and tensions! But, first let see what the title says. ‘Copy comfirmed’. It is about ‘repetitions’, copies that are exactly similar. Is it possible? I mean in life, in reality and not on the paper? People do talk about repetitions in life, in the history, and in psychoanalysis, there have been a lot about ‘repetition compulsion’ or ‘compulsion to repeat’ since Freud, and in relation to the death instinct. There is another known repetition in psychoanalytic situation, i.e. transference! Between the therapist and his/her patient. Very much like what happens in this film; A sort of misidentification; a person taken for another. But, to me no copy corresponds, exactly, to the original, particularly, in real life. Freud, cleverly, talked about “new editions’ and not ‘new reprints’; each edition is somewhat different from the previous ones. Repetitions in life and in history are new editions and not reprints. That is why it is so difficult for us, to recognize them, as soon as they are happening. They happen in disguised form. That is why I doubt we can find ‘confirmed copies’ in real life! Then, we enjoy new editions, whatever price we pay for their consequences!
You said we will return to the theme of the child / boy in Kiarostami’s works. What’s his place and significance in Certified Copy?
Let’s see what’s this curious/inquisitive boy doing in this film? Although we see him only in a very short part of the film (in the book ceremony, and then in the street and the restaurant with his mother), but he has an ‘absent presence’ in the rest of the film; such as Miller’s memories of the boy and the mother, and then the association of her and her crying. The boy obviously questions his mother’s relationship with this “probable” father. He has observed her and he has seen all of her non-verbal manners regarding Miller, and he has caught all the nuances, and then, in the restaurant, makes his mother aware of his observations, while she is trying to deny them. He has many questions: about why has she bought six copies of the book? And for whom? Why would she do that when she apparently has no interest in the book’s content, and that she wasn’t even paying attention to what the author was saying in the hall, since she was constantly talking to the translator, therefore her interest in the book and the author makes no sense whatsoever. Then he concludes that if she has given her phone number to the translator to be passed on to Miller, it’s only because she has liked him and wants to become his lover! He even mentions her previous lovers so she would know that he keeps count. She tries to give a convincing response to her son, but the son’s information and awareness is so much that she can’t hide her “feelings” towards Miller under the camouflage of “professional necessities” from the boy’s sharp eyes. The boy, just like a jealous husband, has caught the mother/wife “in the act” and despite the fact that he can’t do anything about it, he still would like to let her know that he is not the “baby” she thinks he is, and certainly not an “idiot” either. Maybe that’s exactly why he was so restless during the speech. That’s why he was so angry and showed his objection to be present there that he wanted to drag his mother to the restaurant, so she couldn’t enjoy the company of her love interest. And also, maybe it’s because of a unconscious rivalry he has with Miller that he drags her out of the hall. It’s a “triangle” that has precedence. He has a memory of a painful and envious triangle since his childhood in his unconscious, the original experience of which he may not recall, but he certainly recalls enough about the newer editions (mother’s other lovers) to be able to throw in her face. But apparently she has a vivid memory of the life she’s had with the boy’s father, and she is so nostalgic about it that wants to relive it with Miller. But she eventually fails, and ends up with a phantasmal and melancholic memory; a memory wherein the boundary of the real and un-real is blemished. Why that happens? Because although she recalls her experience with her husband, it’s not the same memory she has about her own parents, which she had both an envy of repeating and feels guilty about repeating it! This ambivalence is more apparent with Miller. She wants him and tries to convince him, and at the same time feels a rage towards him and rejects him. This is an ambivalence that has happened many times before; ever time ending her relationships with men in a deadend. And now in the fifth decade of her life, in fear of solitude and pressure, she needs to establish a relationship with a man to resemble the memory of a husband that has ended by mistake or any other reason. This need is projected upon a memory that is so far away, so phantasmal, and so full of tensions; a primal experience that was both joyful and sinful, and has been buried in her subconscious, and now, wants to jump out with such a force and be repeated with Miller, that is impossible for her to stop. A phantasmal memory, which tries to prove it is real, so it can spread over to include him in it. A phantasmal desire that the subject (she) projects over, so the object (him) can identify with it. In this one-day journey, slowly everything changes in a way that the audience wonders whether they are (or have been) a married couple. There are some fundamental questions to be asked:
a) has there really been a “relationship” between them?
b) have they known each other at all, or is this the first time they meet?
What is obvious in Certified Copy is that there is a distance between them, regardless of whether they are a real couple or not. I think this is the link that has been repeated ever since Report in all of Kiarostami’s films. On the one hand there is a powerful woman that tries to convince “the other,” or the man who, other than being the man, is a mirror image of herself; and the child who completes the triangle. The child who, ever since Report, has been a seven/eight year old boy who is sometimes close to the woman and sometimes to the man, but is lonely, just like his parents. In Where is My Friend’s House his mother is a homemaker, who even when busy with household chores like the laundry, is strong and fearsome. But he eventually manages to run out to find his friend’s house. In Life and Nothing Else he is with his father. In Ten we have a boy who, like the situation in Certified Copy, is in a triangle and is constantly trying to question his controlling mother. In The Wind Will Carry Us we see him again in relation to a man who has come to the village to witness the death of a mother and report it to her son. But it’s in Certified Copy that his presence is more significant; especially when we see him challenging his mother and trying to be recognized, and then we have Miller’s memory of a mother who used to drag her son everywhere and only look back at a corner to make sure that he is still there! A mother and son, who has never walked together. A relationship that includes an “intimidator” and an “intimidated”. The boy feels nobody “sees” him. The boy’s intervention in the mother’s attempt at starting a relationship with Miller, upsets the mother. But Miller’s recounting a memory about his childhood and the reason why he decided to write this book, associates her with her son, causing her to reach a sad insight and begins to cry. That’s what we see a lot during psychoanalysis. And why is it that Miller is so stimulated by seeing the relationship between this mother and son? Is it because he’s had a similar relationship with his mother during his own childhood? Maybe his book – Certified Copy – other than defending the value of copies of original works of art, is recounting a story about other “certified copies” that James Miller has experienced in the mother/son relationship in his own childhood. Does this boy represent James Miller’s childhood? Is this woman, who’s trying to make a love relationship with him, an image of his own mother? Is it not the desire of the antic-seller woman, that is in itself a desire to repeat a lived life, being intermingled with the a “painful repressed memory” in James Miller’s unconscious mind to reach to that phantasmal struggle and the “enjoyable unpleasant game” of a daylong journey with him? James Miller descends the stairs to the antic shop with a sense of doubt and an unpleasant ambiguity. As if he can feel descending into the depth of his own unconscious, where he can face many originals, along with many copies, and ‘repressed’ leftovers of past experiences of a life left behind; dangerous memories he should stay away from. One of the fundamental rules in his life is that “one should never get close to these antics, because they are dangerous.” He can’t tolerate the basement even for a coffee. He wants to get rid of all this complexities and struggles and dangers and reach the fresh air outside, not knowing that there is no escape from your own unconscious. So even when he gets outside and enjoys the fresh air, he has the mother of all his past life next to him, with her red shoes that he picked up and throw them in the back of the car! and with those arguments between the antic-seller and her son. He can’t get rid of his unconscious. It’s playing around with him, even in the fresh air, or in his daily life when he is totally unaware of his surroundings. James although doesn’t want to get involved in this game, there is a secret and mysterious power that forces him into it, which is conducted by her, trying to trick him into a love affair. But it’s actually his own game, and his own sinful wish that is projected onto her. And the boy seems to be his own childhood; his own self, who is the narrator now.
The “complex simplicity” that you mentioned before has many functions in relation with Kiarostami’s characters. Maybe parts of this apparent simplicity and the inherent complexity are reflected upon Kiarostami himself. He has said somewhere: “I try not to make guesses and escape from foresights. I don’t think about tomorrow, and I don’t daydream. Our age of course requires some daydreaming. But I’m not a man of the past. Past is past, and the present is running away from us. Therefore what’s left for us is our future, our dreams. But I am not a man of future either. I have chosen in recent years not to think of the future at all, and not have an illusion of the future either…” I feel he is claiming something that has nothing to do with reality. But what he is saying here reminds me of Khayyam’s outlook. One can’t simply accept that Kiarostami is a man who lives in the present and not a man of the future.
Exactly. I think what he says doesn’t match with what he does. He constantly thinks about the future. If he wasn’t thinking about the future and didn’t want to advance, he wouldn’t be who he is now. Those who live in the present, have no loads on their shoulders, and live a simple life like the masses. The oriental outlook says “we haven’t seen tomorrow, and yesterday is already gone. So let’s enjoy the moment.” But I think it is Kiarostami’s wish to be that way. The same wish that I said he puts in his characters. Like James Miller, he wishes to be a simple man. The narrator, both in the film and in reality, is confusing us, and he doesn’t mean what he says. I doubt if Kiarostami lives life according to Khayyam’s teachings. He wishes to be that way, but in reality, he isn’t.
Dr. Mohammad Sanati, born in Teran, in 1945, entered medical school in 1963 at the University of Tehran, and graduated in 1970. He became a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London in1982. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal College in1992. He had his training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and group therapy in UK. He returned to Iran in 1983 working as an academic member of psychiatric group at Roozbeh Hospital; Tehran University of Medical Sciences where he is the head of dynamic psychotherapy unit. He is also the head of psychotherapy section of the Iranian Association of Psychiatrists.