“Copie Conforme,” the new Abbas Kiarostami film which was shot on location in Italy with Juliette Binoche and opera singer William Shimmel, has been highly anticipated at this Cannes Festival. I have a feeling you’ve heard the words “highly anticipated” recently. But in the case of this movie, a meditation on the meaning of the gaze one casts on an object—even if that object is a copy—it really was the case. There’s a few good reasons why: first, Kiarostami belongs to that small circle of “favorite film authors” in Cannes, along with people like Gus Van Sant, Mike Leigh, and Woody Allen, and second because the encounter between Juliette Binoche and the director, which happened a few years ago, and is the genesis for the film, has been talked about a lot ever since it happened. Binoche had been to Tehran twice. A real, if temporary, bond existed between the filmmaker and the actor. “Copie Conforme,” in all of its grandeur, is the result of that encounter. The equally anticipated press conference took place today. Here are a few quick thoughts: it was long, emotional and riveting.
The first segment of the nearly two-hour long conference (one of the longest ones I can remember, and I’ve been coming here for five years) was devoted to the political situation with Iran and Jafar Panahi’s detainment. This was not so much decided by the moderator, Jean-Michel Frodon (formerly of the Cahiers du Cinéma), as it was by Mr. Kiarostami himself. In fact, I was surprised by how much interest and control the director had on the proceedings. But it wasn’t so much patronizing, as you might presume from my words, as it was paternal. And the ever gracious Frodon, bonhomie personified, didn’t seem to mind—by far he’s my favorite moderator of the lot. In his introduction Kiarostami said, “cinema has been attacked, which is why I am intervening.” He further stated that on his way to the Palais, he got a message from Panahi’s wife, to call her as soon as he possibly could.” Kiarostami interpreted this as being positive news, interestingly enough since it could be negative, too. Kiarostami said, “the fact that a filmmaker has been jailed is intolerable … an entire art form has been jailed.”
The Iranian filmmaker also mentioned the March letter which appeared in the New York Times and told us he had brought a stack of them along in case any of the journalists present needed a take-home copy. Kiarostami, whose tone in that famous letter had not sounded very convincing to me, is definitely showing perseverance in defending his filmmaker colleague currently languishing in Evin prison (on an unrelated note, as you probably heard Clotilde Reiss was released from jail and arrived in Paris a couple of days ago, after the French government made some irreversible compromises). The “Taste of Cherry” previous Palme D’Or winner also added, “if Panahi is going to continue to be held against his will, some questions will need to be answered.” When evoking the act of filmmaking, he added, “the Iranian government has been placing obstacles in the paths of filmmakers. If they do not like our films, then the fact that my films are accepted overseas is based on the fact that I have acquaintances and connections in other countries, and it displeases them.”
When the floor was opened for questions one Iranian journalist evoked the case of an Iranian singer who was recently jailed and asked, choking in between words, whether Kiarostami was afraid of returning home. Halfway through her question she choked up, and the room was still. I noticed that Juliette Binoche herself was moved, a lonesome tear streaming down her left cheek. One of the hosts from the festival’s press service came to Binoche to offer a tissue.
Later, the filmmaker himself brought some levity to the afternoon and told of the time when he got a call, many years ago, from Festival president Gilles Jacob saying Kiarostami was about to receive the Rossellini award and, having barely packed a pair of denim jeans and a casual blazer went out on the Croisette asking passersby if anyone would trade their dressier jacket for his. “That’s my first, and wonderful, memory of the Cannes Festival.”
Copie Conforme comes out next month in France.
Ali Naderzad is the founder and editor of www.screencomment.com.
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