Monday, September 14, 2020

Christ Stopped At Eboli


CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI (Rosi, 1979)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date Sep 22, 2020
Review by Christopher S. Long

In 1935, painter, writer, and political activist Carlo Levi was sentenced by Mussolini's Fascist authorities to internal exile (confino) in an impoverished rural town in the Lucania region of southern Italy where local officials monitored his movements and communications on a daily basis. Levi was eventually set free, and in 1945 he published “Christ Stopped At Eboli,” a best-selling memoir about his time among the peasants of the south. In 1979, director Francesco Rosi adapted the book for the screen.

The nearly 20-minute opening sequence eases viewers into this strange new land along with the protagonist. Levi (Gian Maria Volonte) arrives at the train station, picks up a stray dog, and rides a rambling, rickety bus into the town of Gagliano, with the police close at his side. He rests his head against the window and watches wide pastures roll by where shepherds guide their flocks. A feisty old woman on the bus clutches two live chickens. Levi is a long way from his home in Turin, debating politics and aesthetics with his fellow intellectuals.

This long, meticulously detailed trip functions like a decompression chamber, allowing viewers to acclimate gradually along with Levi to this new environment. On his first night in town, a rattled, weary Levi pulls his blankets over his face so he can hide in the cocoon. In the ensuing days he will be shocked to witness boys pelting a priest with rocks and by the desperate poverty as well as the prevalence of malaria among the populace. Soon, however, he forges a connection with his prison-town and grows to love the stoic peasants and to admire their timeless ability to endure hardship.

The peasants embrace him too, especially once he serves as the town doctor, selflessly administering to all, at least when his jailers permit it. Levi's primary goal in publishing his memoir wasn't to recount his plight as a political prisoner, but rather to inform readers about this very different Italy, practically a foreign nation that has been ignored and abandoned by the developed north.

Local officials do nothing to make the peasants feel like they matter. The aforementioned priest (Francois Simon) dismisses his flock as “a town filled with animals, not Christians” but nobody takes the drunken clergyman seriously anyway; they know he was only assigned (sentenced) to their parish as punishment for past transgressions. The fascist-but-friendly mayor (Paolo Bonacelli) fancies himself an intellectual peer of Levi's, but can't fathom why the painter always wants to talk about the locals: “Why go on about the peasants? Forget about them.”

This explains the enigmatic title of both the memoir and film, inspired by an anecdote Levi overheard during his confinement. It refers to the impression some in the south have that the grace of the Church (also often the State in Italy) never spread past the town of Eboli, leaving much of Italy's “boot” out in the cold with no hope of salvation in this world, or perhaps even the next.

Volonte played his share of volatile characters and was also known as a firebrand off-screen, but his Carlo Levi is a tousle-haired, sad-eyed observer, humble and genuinely curious about the people of Gagliano. He learns how a resourceful butcher inflates a dead goat to salvage every body part and tries to hide a smile when his fiery housekeeper Giulia (Irene Pappas) spins the elaborate web of superstitions that dictate her behavior - you can't throw trash out at night because you'll toss it right in the face of the angel who guards the door!

Giulia is one of many strong-willed woman in Gagliano. Many mothers raise their children alone because they have been abandoned by husbands and lovers who have fled to America seeking the opportunities southern Italy doesn't offer. The Great Depression has forced some of those men to return, leading to one of the film's most rousing scenes when a group of inebriated men sing of the glories of New York City (it would have been our capital if we had one!) as well as their homeland, but Rosi cannily defuses the celebration by cutting abruptly from their joyous rendition of “Viva L'Italia” to a fascist rally in the town square. The shadow of Fascism has not stopped at Eboli.

Rosi originally shot his adaptation as a four-part television miniseries, running 220 minutes in the cut included on this disc. Aside from Levi's tentative emergence as the town doctor, there's little central tension driving the narrative. “Christ Stopped At Eboli” is more a film of quiet impressions and almost random encounters that slowly accrete to form an empathetic, kaleidoscopic portrait of a neglected people. The film refrains from passing overt judgments on any of the characters, not even the drunken priest or the indifferent mayor. Carlo Levi, a simple prisoner in Gagliano just like everyone else, merely watches respectfully, helps when he can, and commits every detail to memory so he can share their story.


Video:
As mentioned above, Rosi shot “Christ Stopped At Eboli” as a four-part miniseries running about 55 minutes per installment. It was also released in a much-shorter theatrical cut. Criterion has only included the miniseries, which plays as a single film from the menu, though each part has its own opening and end credits.

The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. From Criterion: “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution... from the 35 mm original camera negative.” Colors are naturalistic, heavy on earth tones, and the image resolution is sharp throughout.

Audio:
The linear PCM audio mix is flat but crisp with no noticeable distortion. Optional English subtitles support the Italian audio.

Extras:
Criterion has gathered several shorter supplemental features for this Blu-ray release.

In a new interview (2020, 27 min.), translator, interpreter, and writer Michael F. Moore discusses his work on the subtitles for this release, which required dealing with multiple Italian dialects. He also talks a bit about Francesco Rosi, who honed his craft as an assistant to Luchino Visconti on neo-realist films like “La terra trema” (1948).

The disc also includes an excerpt (24 min.) from the July 5, 1978 episode of the French TV series “Cine regards.” This piece, directed by Bouramy Tioulong, combines interviews with Rosi, Volonte, and director Elio Petri with some on-set footage from “Christ Stopped At Eboli.”

“Bad Earth” is a segment (27 min.) of the Aug 9, 1974 episode of the French talk show “Italiques” in which Rosi and Levi discuss a variety of subjects ranging from Levi's exile to the general state of post-war art. Rosi proudly refers to Levi as one of his major artistic influences.

We also get an interview (2014, 13 min.) with Rosi in which the director remembers actor Gian Maria Volonte. Though Volonte was rumored to be difficult to work with at times, Rosi has nothing but glowing words for his frequent star, who died in 1994. According to Rosi, Volonte didn't want to live in a hotel like a typical actor but wanted to spend time with peasant households to immerse himself in the character and the location. This was Rosi's last on-camera interview – the director died in 2015.

A Trailer for the film's re-release by Rialto rounds out the supplements.

The slim fold-out booklet includes a comprehensive essay by writer and film professor Alexander Stille.

Final Thoughts:
The film's considerable length and loosely-structure narrative require patience from the viewer, but that attention will be rewarded by a film that immerses audience in a specific time and place that feels authentically rendered. Rialto restored “Christ Stopped At Eboli” at its full running-length for theatrical release last year, and Criterion has done a splendid job providing a Blu-ray with a strong high-def transfer and a solid array of supplemental features.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Town Bloody Hall


Greer and Mailer in Town Bloody Hall
TOWN BLOODY HALL (Hegedus and Pennebaker, 1979)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date Aug 18,2020
Review by Christopher S. Long
In the documentary “Town Bloody Hall” (1979), Norman Mailer accuses virtually everyone of misunderstanding what he wrote. A lesser writer might have considered this an opportunity to reflect on the possible shortcomings of his craft, but for an author who styles himself as a heavyweight prizefighter, it's an excuse to come out swinging at the puny pretenders who dare to challenge the champ. Mailer doesn't really land any haymakers, but he certainly stirs his share of shit.
Mailer had just stirred an Everest of shit with his essay “The Prisoner of Sex” (published in the March 1971 issue of “Harper's”), a retaliatory strike against feminist author Kate Millett, who had recently criticized him. While (big surprise) accusing Millett of misunderstanding him, he mischaracterized and derided much of the women's liberation movement, igniting a firestorm which branded him, for some, as the nation's male-chauvinist-in-chief, and therefore an inviting target.
The still white-hot controversy generated a April 30, 1971 panel discussion/fundraiser at The Theater of Ideas in Manhattan's Town Hall, ostensibly pitting Mailer against four feminist thinkers, though framing the event and labeling the participants in that manner grossly oversimplifies. Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and his crew were on hand to film the evening, though the footage would be shelved for several years until editor Chris Hegedus (also credited as co-director) cut it into an actual film that was finally released in 1979.
The documentary begins with the crowds both outside and inside the venue, and the first distinct impression of the evening is the total lack of diversity. This event appears to be exclusive to white attendees, both on stage and off. One heckler, seen a few times, reminds participants that the admission fee precludes the poor from participating in this “open” discussion.
Mailer's bluster threatens to overshadow the circus-like atmosphere, but the four women who speak on stage aren't intimidated by his preening machismo. They also each bring their own perspectives to the program, making it clear that women's liberation circa 1971 is a series of movements, not a monolith. Jacqueline Ceballos, president of the New York chapter of NOW, admits she represents the “square” feminist organization, while the esteemed literary critic Diana Trilling expresses skepticism about what she considers to be the more radical feminist wing, especially those who deny the role biology plays in gender politics, aligning her at least to a modest degree with Mailer.
Germaine Greer, whose landmark “The Female Eunuch” was published the year before, represents that more radical wing, though she asserts that she speaks for nobody but herself. She postulates that the hallowed masculine artist is a figure granted far too much power in modern culture, much to Mailer's amusement. Jill Johnston, then well-known as a dance and cultural writer for “Village Voice” and soon after as the author of “Lesbian Nation” (1973), takes over the stage by all but ignoring both the format and Mailer. She performs a raucous and hilarious poem/speech that culminates in a pantomimed make-out session with two other women. Understanding the virtue of ending on a high note, she then promptly exits stage right, never to return.
The other panelists remain for a contentious discussion which Mailer largely dominates, frequently whining to the audience that he just wants the chance to say something when he has, in fact, been doing all the talking. Greer seems to be the only one really interested in dueling with him aside from audience members, including a few elites selected to ask questions or shoot barbs at Mailer, including Susan Sontag, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Betty Friedan, among others.
Stylish and poised, Greer (much-criticized today for her transphobic comments from several years ago) emerges as the fearless heroine of the evening, at least after Johnston's triumphant exit, while Mailer, at least in my eyes, plays the buffoon. Did Hegedus edit the footage to emphasize Mailer's boorishness? This Criterion disc includes a Mailer appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” (see below) which raises the possibility that Hegedus may have actually done her best to make the pugilistic author appear reasonable and charming. Mailer calling a woman in the audience “cunty” can almost be dismissed as yet another tedious provocation. But his rambling discursion about how women who take “advantage” of a man who they know won't strike them are actually committing violence against the man would ring as obscene from any speaker, let alone from a man who had stabbed his wife.
Viewers aren't likely to learn much about second-wave feminism from “Town Bloody Hall,” but it's surprisingly entertaining and sometimes outrageous. It also provides a window to a moment in American culture when public intellectuals did something other than whine about cancel culture on social media.

Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The event was shot on 16 mm, and Pennebaker's crew didn't have official permission to film the event. So the footage looks grainy, isn't always well-lit, and features plenty of shaky framing and swish pans. This is a new digital transfer “created in 4K resolution” but it's only going to look so sharp. However, this 1080p more than does justice to the source.
Audio:
The LPCM Mono audio mix is fairly crisp, though sound quality varies at time considering the venue and filming conditions – audience members who shout out weren't miked up, after all. Optional English subtitles support the dialogue, and I found it helpful to turn them on the whole time.
Extras:
Criterion has included a variety of supplemental features for this Blu-ray release.
The film is accompanied by a commentary track featuring Germaine Greer and co-director/editor Chris Hegedus. This was recorded in 2004.
The disc also offers a new interview (2020, 25 min) with Hegedus, discussing her early career and influences (Maya Deren among them) as well as her involvement with “Town Bloody Hall.” As mentioned above, Pennebaker shelved the footage for years. Hegedus, an admirer of some of the women featured on the panel, was excited to have the chance to shape the material into a film. The movie premiered at the Whitney in 1979, but received limited play elsewhere, on college campuses and on PBS in NYC.
“Reunion” (22 min.) shows footage from a 2004 event in which several of the panelists (Mailer not among them) got back together for a screening and discussion of the film at the National Arts Club in NYC.
We also get a 2001 interview (12 min.) in which Greer discusses her impressions of Mailer leading into the panel discussion. She admired him greatly as a writer but had problems with the format of the event since the women were generally expected to march to Mailer's tune. Perhaps surprisingly, she talks about her desire to impress him at the time.
Finally, Criterion has included a full episode (67 min.) of “The Dick Cavett Show” that aired on Dec 15, 1971. Author Gore Vidal and journalist Janet Flanner were guests along with Mailer. Cavett brings out each guest in turn, with Mailer heading on stage last, about a half hour into the episode. Cavett's discussions with Vidal and Flanner were quite controlled, but once Mailer, possibly drunk, shows up it turns into a circus even more overwrought than the town hall event in the main film. Mailer arrives in a rage over some perceived insult from Vidal and fails to connect with a series of embarrassingly lame one-liners. Some of his insults are so incoherent Cavett asks him directly what he even means, and Mailer has no coherent response. The audience turns on Mailer quickly as well, which only provides him with even more energy as he wonders if they're all idiots because, of course, everyone misunderstands him.
The fold-out insert booklet features an essay by film critic Melissa Anderson.
Final Thoughts:
“Town Bloody Hall” may not be the kind of movie you desperately need to see on Blu-ray with a new high-def transfer. But Criterion has loaded this release with extra features that make it a worthy addition to anyone's home video collection.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Taste Of Cherry



TASTE OF CHERRY (Kiarostami, 1997)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date July 21, 2020
Review by Christopher S. Long

Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) spends the bulk of Abbas Kiarostami's “Taste Of Cherry” (1997) circling the dusty roads of suburban Tehran, offering rides to a series of men. Is he out cruising? One rough-edged worker thinks so, and threatens to punch Badii in the face, but as our protagonist interrogates each man – a soldier, a security guard, a seminary student, a taxidermist – it becomes increasingly clear (or perhaps slightly less opaque, as Kiarostami is in no hurry to show his cards) that he has a different, though equally primal, goal in mind.

Badii probes relentlessly to ferret out each man's job situation, and once he learns that each is in financial need, he offers a substantial payment if they will help him with a job. That's predatory behavior by any standard, especially from a (presumably) wealthy city man seeking out working-class marks, but once Badii finally reveals the nature of this mysterious job, and his pressing, existential need, viewers may forgive him. Your first viewing of the film will be different whether you know this “twist” or not, so consider this a spoiler warning. Proceed at your own risk.

Badii intends this very evening to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills and lie down in a hillside grave he has already dug for himself. He wants someone to come by in the morning and call out his name; if he doesn't respond, that person must bury him and then can take the money in his car as reward for a good deed. He dismisses it as “only twenty shovelfuls of dirt” but it's not hard to understand why each of his new acquaintances is shaken by the request, and it requires multiple attempts before he finds a reluctant taker.

As shocking as the premise is, especially in an Islamic Republic where suicide is complete taboo, Kiarostami makes a bolder decision by refusing to explain his desperate protagonist's motivations. “Taste Of Cherry” is one of the most powerful ripostes to literal-minded viewers who constantly cry out for more background information, demanding that filmmakers shine a floodlight on their characters' darkest, most private spaces so that everyone can clearly see into every cobwebbed corner.

Kiarostami is a more mature and empathetic storyteller than that and it's difficult not to hear him speaking directly to the audience when Badii responds to one man's request for an explanation, “How come? It wouldn't help you to know and I can't talk about it.” There's your Masterclass in screenwriting right there. Ershadi was a non-professional actor at the time, but his sad, piercing eyes and the finely worn lines of his fifty-ish face convey a depth of insight that no flashback or exposition could possibly match. To explain would eradicate the mystery and, anyway, perhaps he doesn't know why. Or maybe there's no why at all. Does it change how much you care?

Few directors were better than Kiarostami at filming extended driving sequences. Badii's car kicks up billowing dust clouds at a hardscrabble construction site and winds along sinuous hillside roads, perhaps the same paths already traveled on foot by the unforgettable young hero of “Where Is The Friend's House?” (1987). One of Badii's passengers convinces him to take a scenic detour, possibly signaling a turn in the story itself as nature's beauty forcefully asserts its presence. Yet we have to squint closely to detect any sign that Badii is wavering, that he has found anything new to connect to.

Will he or won't he? That might not even be the right question to ask. The film's focused narrative seems locked into a binary resolution, but Kiarostami's ending insists that cinema encompasses far greater worlds than mere narrative. The ending, which I will leave unspoiled here, drove some critics batty (the later, great Roger Ebert detested it, but found little value in the rest of the movie either) while others found it sublime. More than twenty years later, it remains a fertile subject for debate, which I suppose is a defining element of much of Kiarostami's open-ended, reflexive, and deeply sensitive art. 


Video:
Criterion released “Taste of Cherry” on DVD way back in 1999 with an SD transfer that seemed strong enough at the time, but which pales in comparison to this 4K digital restoration which is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

The image resolution is sharp throughout and the color palette looks subdued and naturalistic – lots of earth tones from its locations. I've never had the chance to see this either on film or in high-def, so this 1080p transfer was a genuine pleasure to watch. I can't imagine the movie has ever looked any better.

Audio:
The linear PCM mono sound track is sharp and spare, mostly dialogue and naturalistic location sounds. Optional English subtitles support the Persian dialogue.

Extras:
The 1999 DVD release offered only one notable feature, a interview of Kiarostami (18 min.) by film scholar Jamsheed Akrami, and that has been included on this new Blu-ray.

Criterion has also added some new features for this release, starting with “Project” (1997, 39 min.), a “sketch” film which shows Kiarostami preparing for the full shoot. In most of the film's conversations that take place in the car, Kiarostami was actually sitting in the other seat directing his actors, something he seamlessly hides in the final cut, so it's enlightening to see him “show his work” here.

Film scholar Hamid Naficy (2019, 17 min.) provides a brief overview of Kiarostami's career preceding this film and then analyzes a few moments in the movie.

Criterion has also included a short episode (7 min.) from the Criterion Channel's “Observations on Film Art” series in which film scholar Kristin Thompson underscores a few basic themes and element common to much of Kiarostami's work.

We also get a Theatrical Trailer (1 min.)

The slim fold-out booklet includes an essay by critic A.S. Hamrah.

Final Thoughts:
Kiarostami had already been making films for over 20 years and was at the peak of his career, yet “Taste Of Cherry”, which won the Palme d'Or in 1997, is frequently highlighted as the film that enabled him to break out as a major force on the international festival circuit and, with it, much of the Iranian New Wave. Its victory at Cannes and its 1999 release by Criterion made it the first Kiarostami film that many Americans saw, providing both the opportunity to discover some of his previous masterpieces (such as the amazing “Close-Up”) and to keep up with the series of landmark works he released until his death in 2016.

With this Blu-ray upgrade of an early title, Criterion has provided a superb high-def transfer and an array of supplements that should please any Kiarostami fan.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Shirin


SHIRIN (Kiarostami, 2008)
Cinema Guild, DVD, Release Date Aug 24, 2010
Review by Christopher S. Long

(NOTE: Abbas Kiarostami, who died in 2016, would have turned 80 today. Here's a repost of my review of one of his lesser-known films, though certainly not one of his lesser films. And feel free to click on the 'Kiarostami' tag at the end of this post for links to several other films by this modern master.)

Abbas Kiarostami´s "Shirin" (2008) is the very model of simplicity, constructed entirely (aside from the opening and end credits) of a series of close-up shots of women in a theater watching a film. Well, not exactly. The actresses were actually filmed in small groups while sitting in Kiarostami´s living room, and they weren´t really watching a movie. In fact the movie doesn´t exist at all except as an audio track which was recorded after the actresses´ performances were filmed. So scratch that simplicity business. Chalk "Shirin" up as another of Kiarostami´s deceptively complicated, multi-layered meditations on life, the cinema and everything. We shouldn´t expect anything else from the director of “Close-up” (1990) and "A Taste of Cherry" (1997).

On the surface there seems to be something perverse about Kiarostami´s decision to work with a cast full of professional actors for the first time, and then to plop each of them in a living room chair and have them "simply" (that word again!) stare ahead as if watching a movie. Yet as revealed in the wonderful making-of documentary ("A Taste of Shirin") included on this DVD, these big-name stars of Iranian cinema (plus Juliette Binoche, perhaps prepping for her role in Kiarostami´s "Certified Copy") are not only acting, but pushing their craft into previously unexplored territory. As Kiarostami says to one of his performers: "You are now the spectator of movies you have been playing for years." This is surely a role none of them expected to be playing on screen, and the director doesn´t make it easy, paradoxically micromanaging them ("move your chin up") then asking them to create their own inner movie and express any resulting emotions with their eyes.

Cinema Guild has included two other Kiarostami short films on this disc which share the same formal concerns as the main feature, namely the intent study of images we rarely, if ever, get to scrutinize on film. In "Roads of Kiarostami" (2006), the director films not just roads but primarily his own photographs of roads winding through the countryside. We have seen images like this before even in Kiarostami´s own work (the winding road up the hillside in the 1987 "Where Is The Friend´s House?" being a standout) but the close "aerial" study of these two-dimensional photographs provides a unique perspective on these sinuous forms, appreciated for their formal beauty rather than their more pragmatic function. In "Rug" (2006), Kiarostami travels the "roads" of a Persian rug, the camera tracking its intricately woven patterns first in a counter-clockwise circle (or square, following its shape) then panning up and down before zooming out for a broader view. 


In "Shirin" he studies the roadmap of the face, faces of women both younger and older, faces framed by head scarves that are limned by the flickering light of the faux movie screen. For me, one of the greatest pleasures in cinema is watching people while they are watching or listening to something off-screen; absorbing, learning, thinking. Godard´s cinema is replete with such instances, the most famous being Anna Karina watching "The Passion of Joan of Arc" in "Vivre Sa Vie." The inherent creepiness of watching Danny watching a Roadrunner cartoon in "The Shining" also springs to mind. Kiarostami´s film takes this aesthetic to a whole different level.

The faces in "Shirin" tell a gradually unfolding story that relates to the story being told off-screen. Kiarostami´s audio movie is based on the medieval poem "Khosrow and Shirin" by Nizami Ganjavi, a tragic love story (the only kind) about a woman (Shirin) pursued by a king and an artist. What we hear suggests that this is a purely commercial melodrama which explains why it´s playing in a public theater rather than to a festival crowd like most of Kiarostami´s work. At first, the women´s faces are either impassive or pensive as they reserve judgment about the film, but they turn more expressive, tears eventually flowing as they are seduced by its pathos. Not that any of them were watching a film, of course. When an actress appears to be jolted by a sudden event on screen, she was actually startled by the director dropping a pan. Any trick to get an "authentic" reaction.

Perhaps Kiarostami is contemplating the relationship of his own contemplative, occasionally abstract work to the seductive power of narrative cinema. I'm not ready to venture into that interpretive mine field just yet. What I´m left with instead is the surface level, memories of a series of women´s faces looking ever so slightly off-screen (I don´t recall anyone´s gaze meeting the camera) giving us the opportunity to observe them as they observe a non-existent film. How beautiful. How fascinating. And, in the end, yes, how simple this film´s charms. 


Video:
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer from Cinema Guild. The widescreen image is windowboxed for some reason, but otherwise I have no complaints. It´s tempting to carp a bit about how dark some of the images look, but this was meant to look like it was shot in a theater so obviously there are times that faces are going to disappear somewhat into the shadows. The flickering light sometimes shows up as looking a little blotchy on the ´theater seats" in the film, but this is a solid transfer all around.

Audio:
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. If there is anything I was somewhat off put by, it´s that the film (dialogue and FX) we hear off-screen sounds more like a live radio play than a movie heard in a theater. When you see how the audio was recorded, it´s obvious why this is the case, so I think the sound is well replicated on this mix. English subtitles are provided to support the Farsi audio.

Extras:
With its simple black cover and stripped-down menus, this DVD initially appears to be a no-frills release, but the extras included by Cinema Guild are superb.

First up is the excellent "making of" documentary "Taste of Shirin" (2008, 27 min.) by Hamideh Razavi. As much as any "making of" featurette I can recall, this fits hand in glove with the main feature and can significantly transform your viewing experience. It shows Kiarostami at work with his actresses both in front of the camera and later in the audio booth.

What a treat for Kiarostami buffs to now have two of his recent short films available in Region 1.

"Roads of Kiarostami" (2005, 32 min.) is a natural development in the director´s lifelong passion for filming long, zigzagging roads. In this short, he shoots some moving images of roads, but mostly focuses on photographs (that I assume are his own) of roads, combined with a contemplative voice-over. There is also a brief video passage of Kiarostami on the road trying to capture some images.

"Rug" (2006, 6 min.) is a close-up study of the surface of a Persian carpet accompanied by audio of a man and women reciting poetry. It is quite lovely.

The extras are important simply for making Kiarostami´s short films available on DVD, but they also happen to fit seamlessly together. As mentioned above, all three Kiarostami films (the shorts and "Shirin") show the director´s interest in focusing on images seldom privileged on screen. As a group, these films offer a great perspective on the last five years of this Kiarostami´s thematic and formal concerns.

The slim insert booklet features an insightful two page essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum, one of America´s most eloquent and passionate critical champion of Abbas Kiarostami´s cinema.

Final Thoughts:
"Shirin" may be Kiarostami´s most experimental feature to date, but it´s as accessible as any of his films. Bolstered by the well-chosen extras, "Shirin" is yet another great release by Cinema Guild, and strongly recommended.