Deeper than words
In Ten, Kiarostami shows mysterious and indirect conceptualization
of love relationships
By Poopak Taati
July 29, 2003
In the movie Ten, Abbas Kiarostami attempts to draw
the audience to the notion that love relationships are temporary.
He does so by depicting the conversations of an attractive Iranian
woman, Farideh, with her son and a few other people to whom she
gives rides in her car around the streets of Tehran.
At the beginning of the film, Farideh is disturbed, seeming to
speak to herself. She tries to explain to her son why she needed
to divorce her husband/his father and to convince him that her
second marriage is a much wiser choice: "he is a friend to
me, your father wasn't."
The perceptive little boy reads in her mother's loud tone
of voice and annoying form of conversation that she is not sure
of her either decisions. He plays on her insecurities and guilt
feelings, telling her she is selfish and thinks only of herself.
He believes that his mother was not accommodating to his Dad. She
feels more distressed.
In search of learning about relationships and perhaps soothing
her disturbed emotions, Farideh picks up a self-prostituting woman
and initiates a conversation with her, as if this passenger can
illuminate some mysteries of relationships. Farideh wants to know
about her, her previous relationships, her experiences with her
clients, the way they treat her, the way they say they treat their
wives/female friends, etc.
Farideh is not about to admit to the "prostitute" her
curiosity or sense of distress. She adopts the approach of a concerned
woman who wishes to assist the prostitute in understanding herself.
The "prostitute," whose face is not revealed in the
film, but whose charming voice, provocative personality, and beautiful
laughter make her very intriguing to the audience, responds to
Farideh that she does not need to hear any moralizing. She is happy
with what she does and needs no advice from her.
Yet the "prostitute" also turns the table, questioning
Farideh if she realizes that by receiving gifts from her husband,
she too is prostituting herself. "Isn't the gift after
all an exchange for sex?" Although an interesting encounter,
this interaction remains superficial and shallow, as it does not
allow for a real exchange about "prostitution," nor
does it illuminate love relationships. Both women remain aloof
with one another in a self-defensive attempt.
Farideh comes out of this interaction puzzled, as she should be.
After all, the interaction was a guarded one. Neither has revealed
to the other their true motivations and experiences. But, Farideh
realizes that the "prostitute" might have a good point
that relationships are inherently temporary: they last for one
night, one month, or a period of one's life, but end eventually.
Hanging on to and/or becoming dependent on any man is unwise. Women
too should seek out a series of relationships, Farideh seems to
In another ride, Farideh discovers that the relationship of a close
friend, which had lasted seven years, has finally come to an end.
This friend strikingly and boldly takes her scarf off in a moment
of emotional disclosure, revealing to Farideh that her changed
appearance matches her new outlook on life. She is free at the
end, free from the confusion of a relationship that was hardly
The friend did not know why her fiancé seemed scared of
a marriage commitment. Was he confused? No, she finally had learned
that he was thinking of someone else, although admitting this to
himself or to her was not easy. When he had faced the truth that
his deepest thoughts were with another woman, each felt liberated
to go their separate ways. Farideh echoed the wisdom of the "prostitute" that
relationships are temporary in any case.
In Ten, Kiarostami's conceptualization of love relationships
as temporary is mysterious and indirect. Communication between
the film and the audience relies on hints rather than on substance.
One has to figure out the overall theme of the film, its particulars,
and its meanings, as if the film-maker is hesitant to make a point.
This film frustrates the audience demanding of them a lot of "guess
work." Moreover, many of movie's interactions and scenes
do not fit anywhere. The function of such scenes, like that of
a "waiting game," is to make the audience anxious about
some real happening, so to cause them attribute more importance
to events than is warranted.
Ten draws in the audience with emotionally charged bits and pieces,
but not by well-developed interactions that enable them to understand
the reality or complexity of situations. One's emotions are
engaged by what appears promising, but the film lacks real substance.
This level of non-communication can hardly be blamed on censorship:
it must reflect the film-maker's culture of avoidance and
Revealing as if peeking out from behind the corner of a curtain
might attract Western audiences who must be hungry to use their
imaginations when all sorts of analyses and perspectives are always
presented to them. But, to an Iranian audience, this mode is like
torture, reminding them that an individual is alone not only in
his/her emotional experiences but also in making sense of them.
Not even movies seem to communicate freely. They exhaust and manipulate
rather than exciting the audience by enhancing their knowledge
and experiences. Intrigued at first, the viewer is bound to feel
betrayed when ultimately realizing that not much in the film was
worth their attention, and that the bits and pieces far from illuminate
any real social and personal situations.
However, if the script has very little content for its viewers,
the female actors offer surprising contributions. Farideh, her
friend, and the "prostitute" play their parts in accordance
with the script. The "prostitute" claims sex is all
that she finds enjoyable, the friend acknowledges celebrating the
beginning of a new life, and Farideh echoes the conclusion that
relationships are temporary. Yet the audience notices something
in their acting that complicates the script. One is hard pressed
to believe that the simplistic script reflects these women's
After all, individuals may transform their emotions
only after they make sense of them. Ten hardly engages
its audience and/or actors in such transformations. Therefore,
it is only natural
the actors reflect their culturally-agreed upon definitions of
relationships, despite the script. This conflict between what
was intentional and spoken in Ten and what the actors
unintentionally develop on a level far deeper than words, is
perhaps the real reason
that this film makes an impact.
Ten starts by making a rather simplistic
point about relationships, but it turns into a complex drama for
and the actors,
as they cannot figure out why they should think relationships
are temporary. Nothing in the film prepares or convinces them
point. Viewers come out of the theatre with the same assumptions
they had before seeing it, only that now they feel a bit more
disturbed because they cannot figure out the film either!
Poopak Taati, Ph.D., is a sociologist in Washington
this page to your friends