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#55. Close-Up & #56. ABC Africa - Review

Close-Up film Abbas Kiarostami’s ABC Africa is the Iranian director’s documentary chronicling the thousands of children left parentless by the AIDS virus in Uganda. Just as he opens the film with an obvious reenactment of receiving a fax from the United Nations, Kiarostami gives little attempt at injecting ABC Africa with any reality or sincerity. What he does create is a self-reflex bore, proving once again that Kiarostami is far more interested in himself and his own urges than the tragic African children he lazily documents in this film.

ABC Africa posterSimilar to his 1990 film Close-Up, ABC Africa only perpetuates my opinion that the director is completely egomaniacal, willing to take advantage of the weak and the desperate to fulfill whatever odd meta-reality he is interested in creating. The film Close-Up deals with the real life fraud committed by Hossain Sabzian. A man so desperate for not only success, but also simple appreciation and admiration, he was willing to pretend to be the famous director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and take advantage of the Ahankhah family. The sons were college graduates but unable to secure gainful employment and were more than willing to delude themselves into believing Sabzian was the real Makhmalbaf, and that he would make them famous and wealthy. Sadly this story is true, and in my opinion rather heartbreaking. Kiarostami hears of this crime and decides to make a movie about the tragic events, having the actual victims and the conman play themselves. How was Kiarostami’s con any different than Sabzian’s? Just like the poor fraud, Kiarostami unfairly takes advantage of all involved. Still just as desperate for notoriety and what could only be a considered a sick type of fame, Kiarostami successfully transforms everyone into a victim. He manipulates the weak and derives a pleasure and fascination from it that I do not share.Close-Up film

During his 10-day trip in Kampala, Uganda Kiarostami and a second man filmed what had to have been dozens of hours of footage. Hundreds of beautiful children consistently run up and greet the filmmakers throughout their trip. Covered in filth and what we would consider rags for clothes, these kids are as interested in the director and his camera as he is supposed to be in them and their plight. Unfortunately, Kiarostami is not willing to dedicate much screen time to the reasons behind the orphans’ misfortunes. Instead ABC Africa is yet another opportunity for Kiarostami to use his stature as a film director to film the desperate. More enamored by the spirit of the parentless boys and girls than the horrible AIDS epidemic that swept their mothers and fathers away, far too much time is wasted documenting their smiles. There are more scenes of African villagers listening to music and dancing in unpaved streets than the director interviewing doctors, politicians, or even the victims currently battling the awful virus. In the essay Taste of Kiarostami author David Sterritt writes, “…the cultivation of a deeply poetic cinema has been a driving force behind kiarostami’s career.” (2) It is obvious that the Iranian director was able to find the poetic beauty in Uganda, even underneath all of the death and sorrow. Still, like Close-Up, this film is again unashamedly self-reflexive when it should be educational and informative. There is a very emotional scene in ABC Africa when a child, having just passed away, is delicately wrapped in a white blanket and strapped onto the back a man’s bicycle; Uganda’s makeshift version of a hearse. In what may have been the film’s most heart wrenching moment is utterly destroyed by the directors own inability to deny his self-reflexive urges. As the body is being placed onto the bicycle the camera pulls away and documents Kiarostami documenting the terrible incident, presumably showing the irony of the situation.

In both of his films, Abbas Kiarostami is comfortable putting the wretched and hopeless in front of his lenses, under the guise that he is only interested in telling their story. Reprehensibly this is not true. Kiarostami speaks of art and poetry, but is not concerned with humanity or the responsibility of a filmmaker. In Close-Up he used real life victims to re-live their own hardships and despair for the sake of his art. Even worse in ABC Africa, the director tells the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO) that he will document the children of Africa and show the world what horrible conditions they live in. Instead the director spends the majority of the 83-minute long film letting his camera aimlessly wonder, and I cannot find the poetry in that. 

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