The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Abbas Kiarostami’s experiment, in ten parts, consists of conversations between the driver of an automobile in Tehran—a taxi driver, I presume—and her front-seat passenger, recorded by two digital video cameras attached to the dashboard, one facing the driver, the other facing the passenger. In nearly every shot, therefore, we see either person, not both. (We also see an empty seat.)
The driver, divorced, has remarried. Her first conversation is with Amin, her ten-year-old son. He lives with her. Obstreperous, he berates her for being a bad mother—one who cares more for her work than for him. He calls her selfish, “a stupid cow,” and alternates between throwing temper tantrums and lecturing her condescendingly in a dismissively calm manner. Amin’s mother is an independent woman contending with a child who chauvinistically sides with his father. (Because of Iran’s strict divorce laws, she tries to explain to her son, she had to lie at trial, accusing his father of taking drugs, in order to be granted the divorce.) In the second segment, the driver discusses the situation with her more traditional sister, with whom she is evidently close. They recall how as children they scolded their mother for working day and night.
Five other women are among her other passengers. These include an older Islamic fundamentalist, an abandoned wife, a prostitute. Ten, then, is a docudrama in motion, for which Kiarostami wrote a script outlining the encounters, but for which the nonprofessional cast members improvised their own dialogue. It is a captivating study, on wheels, of Iranian gender politics, and of ways in which the country is changing and ways in which it has dug in its heels. It is also cumulative, in which the initially defensive driver is gradually driven to exposing and perhaps realizing her vulnerability.
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