This 1989 feature by acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami chronicles a true story he read about in the paper: a man, Hossain Sabzian, was arrested for passing himself off to a wealthy family as the famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Cyclist, Gabbeh). Intrigued, Kiarostami decided to make a documentary feature about the man. Close-Up features plenty of interview segments, as well as Sabzian's trial, filmed in a grainy, documentary style. But there are also recreations of key moments of the hoax, filmed with the actual participants--including Sabzian, who describes his attempt at fraud as a wonderful performance he loved acting out, and whose genuine skill before the camera is apparent.

In his director's statement, Kiarostami is quite clear that the subject didn't interest him for the same reason it would interest most other filmmakers: as a tribute to cinema. Instead, the story for him is all about "man's need for social esteem and recognition." Sabzian's testimony bears this out, whether he's praising Makhmalbaf for understanding his "suffering," or admitting the pleasure he got from seeing a rich family respond to his every whim.

Close-Up plays such beguiling games with reality and fiction that I'm still not sure where, if anywhere, the film is showing us the truth. If that's all it did, then it would be clever, two-dimensional, and dull. No questions about "what is real" are a tenth as interesting as Sabzian alone in a room waiting nervously for his arrest, or even the lovely moment early on when a wholly peripheral figure kills time by plucking roses off a leaf pile and kicking a can down the street.

All Kiarostami's films are sophisticated and intelligent in their blurring of reality and falsehood, but the reason they're among the best in the world today is because his primary goal remains cinema's most magical ability: looking at people, and noticing again and again how beautiful they are.

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