Kiarostami essentially traps us in a sardine-can automobile listening to candid talks between a young woman driver (Mania Akbari) and her varying companions: a prostitute, an old woman, a sister who has fallen in love with the wrong guy (a fairly conventional subplot), and mostly her fresh mouthed son played by the delightful Amin Maher, whose scream of, "I like shouting!" clears the air of an otherwise low-key conversation film.
Repression is brought to the fore in these automobile chats about remarriage, adoption, female beauty, and societal roles. With literally no room to move around, Ten is about talking heads boiling over with ideas, thoughts, and feelings that emerge from characters/talking heads closely brought together in transit. The image surrenders to the spoken, often improvised word. We're asked to listen and respond to faces and emotion, without cinematic distractions. It's more conceptually fascinating as philosophy than as a "movie."
Broken into ten simple vignettes of varying length, some discussions are more provocative than others. The prostitute sequence in particular achieves a sense of pathos, taking place during an all-encompassing, black night illuminated only by storefronts and street lamps. The son, given the most screen time, is the one who pushes mother's hot topic buttons more than any other. Their chat about father's cable stations and blocked pornography channels says a lot about male and female secrets, and the shielding of a son from porno yields some fascinating political overtones.
It's not always so sharp; having an Iranian woman cut off her hair as an act of personal revolution feels as obvious as it is bold. For a director who often achieves maximum impact out of near-imperceptible subtle strokes (so subtle that Roger Ebert entirely missed the point of Kiarostami's earlier film, A Taste of Cherry), it seems altogether too blunt and out of character.
Taste of Cherry also had long segments within an automobile, but its sneaky camerawork not revealing the driver felt more apt in a story about potential suicide. (The protagonist is absent from his own life, and is also absent from the shot. It's pretentious only in description.) In Ten, you could make a similar connection that there are certain things we're not meant to see, but the artistic touch feels too deliberate. He's averting his gaze when he should be humanistic and all encompassing.
Though Kiarostami may have built a trap for himself with this technique, it's poignant nevertheless. During the long opening shot, at least ten minutes uncut, as the boy rants about his living situation, we become attached to little Amin Maher. To cut away to the mother would be to leave someone, and a two-shot would say something quite different about the isolationism of their situation. There's a flaw in the movie's design, though it's difficult to imagine Ten being done any other way. Ten may be the director's first noticeable misstep, one that won't be accessible to those unfamiliar with Kiarostami's body of work and also maybe underwhelming to his fans. Still, it might be a misstep worth exploring.
Reviewed at the 2002 New York Film Festival.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 18th September 2002
Distributed by: Zeitgeist Films
Production compaines: Lenfilm
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Screenwriter: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Oleg Dal as Scientist / His Shadow, Vladimir Etush as Piestro, Annuanciata's father, hotel keeper, man eater, Anastasiya Vertinskaya as Princess, Marina Neyolova as Annuanciata, Lyudmila Gurchenko as Yulia Juli, Andrey Mironov as Caesar Borgia, journalist, man eater, Georgiy Vitsin as Doctor, Sergei Filippov as Prime minister, Zinoviy Gerdt as Finance minister, Anatoly Korolkevich as придворный\пациент доктора
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