"If anyone were to ask me what I did as a director on this film, I'd say 'nothing,'" Abbas Kiarostami has said of the new Ten, "and yet if I didn't exist, this film wouldn't have existed." No doubt there's more than a little exaggeration in the first part of that statement, but there's more than a little truth, too. Short of a security video or an episode of Taxicab Confessions, it's hard to think of a film with less directorial presence than Ten, which consists of 10 sequences (and little more than twice as many static shots) capturing conversations held in the car of Mania Akbari, a twice-married Tehrani woman and mother of 7-year-old Amin Maher. Nonetheless, in many respects, Kiarostami has been moving toward Ten's uninterrupted stream of confessions since at least And Life Goes On…, and here, he refines an element of his style down to its essence. As Akbari's car moves through the city streets, she talks to her son, her sister, a pious old woman, a prostitute, and a young stranger. Their discussions constantly double back to the role of women in society, and the freedoms and restrictions those roles allow. A true Kiarostami heroine, Akbari knows that cars are where the real talking gets done, and as the film proceeds, a story starts to emerge from moments captured in transit. Nobody handles unvarnished interactions quite the way Kiarostami does, and for much of Ten, it's a kind of austere thrill to watch him focus so intently on one aspect of his craft. On the other hand, he's also pared away much that will be missed. ABC Africa turned the director into a digital-video convert, and as remarkable and moving as that documentary was, it's a harsh shock to see one of his narrative films trade his extraordinary eye for unforgiving video imagery. Similarly, the decision to focus on one face at a time sometimes produces extraordinary moments–particularly Maher's unbroken 15-minute tirade, which opens the film, and the reaction on Akbari's face, which the film waits so long to reveal–and sometimes suggests that Kiarostami has Dogme-tized himself into a corner. But even when Ten feels like listening to Chopin punch through a series of finger exercises, it leaves no doubt that there's a master at work, usually in the uncommented-upon connections between moments. A giggling prostitute reduces the meaning of her life to the manic repetition of the word "sex," and Akbari can do little to argue with her. Later, Maher teasingly, naïvely tells his mother about the "very sexy" satellite channels his father watches alone at night. Another passenger reveals her head, which she shaved after her fiancé dumped her. The act of self-abasement or self-liberation makes Akbari comment on the beauty it reveals before she prepares to drive in circles yet again.
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