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With: Mina Mohammad Khani
Written by: Jafar Panahi
Directed by: Jafar Panahi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 08/23/1997

The Mirror (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Home Movie Movies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Circle) served asassistant director to Abbas Kiarostami on Through the Olive Trees(1994). Later, Kiarostami provided the original stories for Panahi'sfilms The White Balloon and Crimson Gold. Though Kiarostami had nothingto do with The Mirror, which has finally been released on DVD, the filmdefinitely channels Kiarostami, notably his 1990 masterpiece Close-Up.

In Close-Up, Kiarostami filmed the real trial of Hossain Sabzian, a man who was caught impersonating another great Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and then Kiarostami went back and recreated the events leading up to the trial, and cut them together as a seamless whole. Seven years later, Panahi begins The Mirror as the story of a little girl (Mina Mohammad Khani), whose arm is in a sling, trying to get home from school when her mother fails to pick her up. It's an archetypal Iranian film, carefully observed, with a keen sense of space and location and excellent use of character types and supporting players.

But halfway through, Mina suddenly takes off her cast and claims that she's quitting the film. A film crew appears and it's revealed that she has, up until now, only been an actor in a film about a little girl getting home. The clever filmmakers leave her remote microphone on and discreetly continue to follow her as the little actress tries to get home, this time for real.

It's a fascinating idea, and the only real problem is that Panahi doesn't really sustain it. The switch comes at about the 40-minute mark, leaving about 50 more minutes to tell the story's second part. It's never clear if the actress, not playing her role, knows how to get home. Several of her conversations contradict one another, and we never really know what's going on.

It's entirely possible that Panahi planned this. Indeed, Close-Up ends with a similar scene. Perhaps he's saying that, as much as these films strive for realism, they can never capture the messy, unpredictable nature of life itself. When, during the second part, Mina meets up with an old lady who was acting in the previous section of the film, Mina asks if the lady's dialogue, about her strained relationship with her son, was made up. The woman says it wasn't. But how do we know she hasn't made up this second time?

In that way, The Mirror treads upon a bit of new ground that Kiarostami did not get to in Close-Up. And so, though it can't measure up to its master, The Mirror is ultimately a worthy and captivating picture.

DVD Details: This new DVD, distributed through Kino by The Kimstim Collection, comes with a Jafar Panahi bio.

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