No stranger to self-reflection, Abbas Kiarostami contemplates his recent digital-video work in 10 on Ten—an 88-minute, 10-part monologue that, like his 2002 Ten, is largely confined to the interior of a moving car. Kiarostami addresses the camera as he drives into the hills above Tehran, revisiting the location for his greatest international hit, Taste of Cherry—and the movie on which, thanks to a lab error, he first used DV.
Occasionally interspersing clips from Ten and the 2001 documentary ABC Africa, Kiarostami extols DV and praises the automobile as a location at once intimate and public. He also ponders the essence of cinema—is it a means of storytelling or the creation of a new reality?10 on Ten describes the latter, but even though a one-man show, it’s really an example of the former—a rehash of Bazinian, neorealist, and new wave notions about acting, le caméra-stylo, the use of music, and the presentation of “everyday life.”
Kiarostami declares that “art should be realistic” and that, per Bresson, one can create through subtraction. In his last lesson, he dramatically stops the car and sarcastically tells the aspiring filmmakers he presumes to be in the audience that if they want to be successful, they should never forget the formula of American cinema—a force more powerful and problematic than the American military. Turning his camera on an ant hill, as he did in his last 35mm film, The Wind Will Carry Us, Kiarostami presents himself as a DV David in the struggle against the global Goliath.
Screening with the genuinely and successfully experimental Ten (and included as an extra on the Ten DVD), 10 on Ten was accorded a generally cool reception when it had its premiere at Cannes last May—as opposed to the passionately mixed response accorded Kiarostami’s more provocative exercise in DV minimalism, Five—and it’s not difficult to understand why. 10 on Ten is less illuminating than pedantic, as well as tediously self-absorbed.
Kiarostami knows that he’s an auteur—but he wonders if he’s a réalisateur (directing scripts) or a metteur en scène (staging the action) or neither. Whichever, he’s not the first artist whose explanation of why he does what he does is considerably less compelling than the thing itself.