Right before I watched this, I learned it was part of an unofficial trilogy. Part 2, to be precise. So I thought I shouldn’t watch it first. But then I read that Kiarostami rejected the idea of a trilogy and I thought “Okay, great, this is one of those film critic trilogies so I don’t have to worry.” But, watching the film, I realize the critics were sort of right and I should have watched the first film, Where is the Friend’s Home?, first.
That’s because this film is about a (fictional) filmmaker travelling back to where he made that very film after there has been a (very real) earthquake in the region. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film with quite this conceit – trying to see if the star of your previous film is still alive after a natural disaster. It’s all the more unique given that the natural disaster actually happened.
This is a naturalistic film, apparently part of a style that I had somehow never heard of before, docufiction. As opposed to docudrama, the dramatization of known historical events, docufiction is the use of documentary-style filmmaking techniques and some real events and people to tell a partially fictional style, so I read on Wikipedia. If this is indeed true, it means I have to retag the odd film on this website, which I have mislabeled docudrama. Anyway…
It’s a naturalistic film with (likely) few professional actors. The film is shot entirely on location during the aftermath of the deadly 1990 Manjil–Rudbar earthquake, something I was utterly unfamiliar with. The story is extremely simple: the director and his son are trying to see if the child who starred in his previous film is still alive.
There are some neat shots – the opening scene in particular is well done – but it’s mostly reasonably similar to how someone might shoot a documentary about a particular person on a particular trip. To me, the style isn’t obviously similar to the most common styles of documentary filmmaking otherwise, but I am making comparisons to the most prevalent English-language styles. There is barely any score, so that’s something that makes it seem more “real.”
The film takes its time and the director talks to a number of people who are (I assume) real survivors of the earthquake. These conversations feel fairly typical, just someone making conversation but trying to learn a little bit about what happened. The pace and tone are utterly foreign to films made about natural disasters by Americans.
The ending is ambiguous, which is something I nearly always appreciate. And it suggests that the journey may have been more important than the destination, even though the director doesn’t do all that much to help.
It’s an interesting, unique film that I suspect will stay with me for some time despite how laconic it feels.