Oeuvre: Kiarostami: 10 On Ten

Oeuvre: Kiarostami: 10 On Ten

Perhaps this would function better as the second disc of a collector’s set for the original film rather than its own production.

As a companion piece to 2002’s Ten, Abbas Kiarostami’s documentary 10 On Ten is an invaluable look into the filmmaker’s process. But as a standalone project exploring the nuts and bolts of cinematic storytelling, it demystifies an artist’s approach to the point of near tedium.

Once you get over the English-speaking dub of Kiarostami’s voice, 10 On Ten is basically an hour and a half of driving around with one of the world’s greatest directors, listening to him plainly expound upon his artistic aims with a casual kind of charm. It’s a fun exercise, to be sure, especially for Kiarostami completists who don’t want to leave a stone in his filmography unturned. Organized into ten sequences, just like Ten, the documentary breaks down each element of that film’s production, from the choice of camera to the writing of the script and so on. It’s like an overgrown DVD special feature or a broader director’s commentary.

Remember how hardcore Robert Rodriguez got about digital video when he made Spy Kids and every single interview with him turned into a commercial for leaving analog behind? Kiarostami makes similar overtures to the freedom provided by shooting with handheld prosumer camera tech, going as far as to imply the camera used on his 2001 documentary ABC Africa possessed a god-like omnipotence. He speaks at great length on truth, moving away from traditional production techniques and the intrinsic power of employing non-actors. To a neophyte, perhaps this is all pretty mind blowing, but for anyone who has ever seen one of Kiarostami’s films, it all seems kind of, well, obvious.

His films are at their best when challenging the audience’s perception of what is real and what is fiction, exploring that sweet spot between documentary and artifice for maximum effect. There’s something magical about his personal approach to storytelling, which makes this project feel like one of those “secrets revealed” TV specials laying bare every hidden technique. No matter how badly you want to know what goes into a magic trick, its mechanics will never match the pure thrill of the trick itself. This documentary doesn’t diminish Kiarostami’s work, but it begs the question of who this film is intended for.

If you’re unfamiliar with Kiarostami’s films, then it’s a feature length piece with a stranger explaining his filmmaking preferences, referencing esoteric movies you’ve no comprehension of. If you’re a fan, there’s not a lot here to learn that couldn’t be gleaned from studying his work, rather than having it spoon-fed to you in casual conversation. There’s an old interview with Akira Kurosawa where someone asked him what the meaning of a recent film he had made was. His response was that if the film’s meaning was simple enough to be spoken so plainly, he would have just written it on a placard rather than waste the time and resources it took to film it.

10 On Ten, luckily, doesn’t spoil Kiarostami’s work or feature any glib deconstructions of his films’ respective meanings, but it does reduce an otherwise ethereal curiosity down to a simplistic set of procedures and practices. It would be invaluable viewing for first year film students, but for enthusiasts it’s little more than an entertaining curio. Who wouldn’t want to listen to their favorite director go on about his style while you sit in the passenger seat with rapt attention? Perhaps this would function better as the second disc of a collector’s set for the original film rather than its own production.

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