13 May 2012

A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE / BREAD & FLOWER (Dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996, Iran/France) - Memories of Dissent

The final shot of the film - the flowerpot, the girl and bread.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf has said that one of the reasons why he wanted to make A Moment of Innocence was because he simply wanted to get to the end shot of the film, one which juxtaposes a flowerpot, bread and the face of a girl in the same frame. Although I don’t want to take anything away from the rest of the film, it is largely the freeze frame end shot that transforms the film into an extraordinary work of real purity. During the turbulent and repressive years of the Shah’s reign in Iran, students became more radicalised and in the case of director Makhmalbaf, at the age of seventeen he stabbed a policeman and was jailed. The political consciousness of Makhmalbaf was forged during an era of great social and political unrest and although Makhmalbaf in the West is largely recognised as a filmmaker, his accomplishments as an artist also includes numerous novels and stories which he has published. Arguably, the work of Makhmalbaf has also given rise to a body of work that encompasses his family including most notably his daughter Samira Makhmalbaf. Perhaps one of the clearest observations is that Makhmalbaf’s work is largely autobiographical and deeply personal in that regard. A Moment of Innocence attempts to reconstruct the stabbing of the policeman, becoming a film about memory, truth and politics. However, Makhmalbaf complicates the re-staging of the event by casting the same policeman which he stabbed. By getting the policeman to play himself, the reconstruction of reality is continually questioned by the memory of the policeman, which after so many years has become somewhat tainted by feelings of resentment and nostalgia. As expected, the policeman becomes deeply involved with the reconstruction and is given the role of preparing the young boy who has been cast as the young policeman. The older, real policeman who experienced the stabbing interrogates the every action of the young actor, ridiculing him and producing some genuinely comical and reflexive moments in which Makhmalbaf’s staging is undermined as artificial. Additionally, moments of rehearsal amongst the young actors unexpectedly segue into reality, demonstrating Makhmalbaf’s desire to question memory. The film can be read largely as a cathartic attempt to come to terms with a personal trauma and by directly involving the victim of his rebellious act, Makhmalbaf tries to reconstruct history through a shared authorship in which everyone contributes to the validity of the enterprise. As for the ending, well, its a remarkable freeze frame which brings together a message of co existence of reconciliation and more importantly basic human emotions and desires that at a time of adolescence can become lost in the chaos of ideological fervour. Also by choosing to end with a freeze frame not only adds to the depth of reflexivity but works to literally capture or hold onto a past from which none of them can escape. It’s one of the great endings in the history of film, one of real grace and purity.

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