Abbas Kiarostami’s new project, Shirin (2008), creates a reflexive film on spectatorship, in which the viewer becomes a significant component of the piece. For this film he hired 112 famous actresses to come to his house where he filmed five-minute segments in which they acted as if they were watching a film. He told them, “since you are spectators in the dark all alone, no one checks you out… You’re not being watched, so you’re more yourself.” He attempted to capture the “private, personal moments” of watching a movie, by filming close-ups of these women’s faces. They are watching a film based on a Persian myth, “Khosrow and Shirin,” for which we hear the entire soundtrack, but see none of—the film does not actually exist. The actors do not see the film, or hear the soundtrack (it was not decided what the narrative would be until afterward), so every one of their reactions is fabricated.
Shirin at first seems to take the form of portraiture—the shots are very similar to what one would see in a photograph. However, the images quickly become unsettling; what may seem natural in a photograph becomes confrontational when the subject we are looking at looks back—when they are no longer an object on the screen, but a living, breathing, moving person. Our gaze is challenged by the returned gaze; we become the screen ourselves as we watch, and are watched by, the actors playing spectators. The actors, in turn, are imagining that they are watching themselves (actors) in a film. This is made more confusing by the sounds of the film, which place us into the same theater-space as the women on the screen; we hear the same soundtrack that they hear, and since they are not actually watching a film, we imagine the film along with them. There is a shifting relationship between subject and object—sometimes we are the observers, other times we are being observed.
The film cannot really be watched as one would usually watch a movie. While there is a narrative that you can follow through the dialogue and sound effects, the piece is more installational–it is something you would expect to see in a gallery, not something you would sit and watch for entertainment. It is an incredibly interesting development of Kiarostami’s style and omnipresent reflexivity. While his films have always been non-traditional, he is moving further and further away from creating films as narrative entertainment, and towards a sort of product that literally forces audience interaction.
As an incredibly interesting experiment with film as a medium I give it: 9/10