Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of TIFF’s film series The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami. For more information, visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
In a masterclass of his own unique filmmaking techniques and philosophies on the art form, Abbas Kiarostami’s 10 on Ten is a film that contextualizes its own existence as it unfolds. It is broken into ten segments, each of the ten segments offering another dimension of insight into the creative processes and cinematic principles behind the creation of Ten and the evolution of his methodologies across the entirety of his diverse body of work. He brings us to the hills on the outskirts of Tehran that he had previously immortalized in Taste of Cherry (1997) where his first foray into digital filmmaking was necessitated by a processing accident that ruined the footage, creating an opportunity for creative evolution when he decided to use home video camera footage shot behind the scenes during the making of the film to replace the lost scenes. This subversion of the “rules” of cinema opened up new possibilities, offering a freedom from the artifice, censorship, and financial requirements of expensive conventional filmmaking. Early digital filmmaking created a new aesthetic, less polished than conventional film but approximating a more objective view of reality from the human perspective. For Kiarostami, the human perspective is what should drive all great art, and in every car in every city is a person who has the indispensable gift of life experience that is more fascinating than any story.
It is in how Kiarostami funnels these ten lessons through his own creative process that elevates 10 on Ten from a mere lecture on his artistic process to a captivating and carefully conceived film in its own right.
As we watch the hills from Taste of Cherry over his shoulders as he drives his Jeep and gives a breathless dissertation on his filmmaking philosophies, we begin to understand Kiarostami’s artistic principles and how he rejects the preconceptions of conventional filmmaking and the rigidity that those conventions dictate. Film can often become an exercise in showcasing mastery of technique that aims to captivate and enthrall a viewer instead of challenging and empowering them to explore a film on their own terms. Kiarostami explains his choice to use a car as the setting for Ten and how the car forces us together into a confined area with the frustrations of negotiating the roads fueling our discomfort and agitation. People have no room to move, forcing them to externalize their emotions in a way conducive to filmmaking. This is one of many ways he gets a naturalistic performance from his non-professional actors, creating a difficult to achieve sense of realism by watching people contend with the discomforts of daily life.
It is in how Kiarostami funnels these ten lessons through his own creative process that elevates 10 on Ten from a mere lecture on his artistic process to a captivating and carefully conceived film in its own right. By the end of the film we understand the creative choices employed in the creation of Ten and how those same choices were being used in this new film about the life experiences and perspectives of a thoughtful and brilliant filmmaker who proves an excellent subject for one of his own films. I suppose anyone could bolt a camera to the dash of their car and film themselves driving around (social media proves this by the minute), but few could contextualize those images through an artistic philosophy as masterfully as Abbas Kiarostami.
In 10 on Ten, Kiarostami offers up ten segments that delve into the creative process, and manages to create a captivating and carefully conceived film.