Revered Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami’s latest work stages a dramatic re-telling of the 12th century legend of Shirin and Khosrow. It’s a tragic and brutal tale of female self-sacrifice, but here’s the rub: the central attraction is missing. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Kiarostami, the increasingly experimental master of the long take and still shot, chooses to focus on the (solely female) faces of the audience watching the film, rather than the story itself. Indeed, the women’s sympathetic and emotionally contorted faces relate the high drama of the legend effectively enough.
However, while this is certainly a fascinating conceit for a film, it is perhaps too conceptual to be anything other than a cerebral experience for the viewer. Essentially, this would have worked very well on a continuous loop in an art gallery, but in feature film format it feels by turns dull, studied, oddly cold and false. Kiarostami chooses to capture, in close-up, some very famous faces (Juliette Binoche features alongside an ‘all-star’ Iranian cast), but this merely prevents the film from being a true study of empathy. One cannot help but be aware that what we are watching here is acting of a very high calibre and not a ‘real’ audience eliciting personal emotion, while the persistent use of close and tight framing renders the whole thing slightly dispassionate and detached. Shirin plays out like some highbrow ‘Kuleshov’ experiment and is best approached with a large dose of patience and tolerance.
(PG) 90min , Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Tue 4–Thu 6 Aug.