by Afra Nariman
Salaam Cinema (1995)
Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
“Even when you cry from the bottom of your heart, you can’t force the tears out.”
Why does cinema mean so much to so many people? Salaam Cinema shows us that the reason why such a deep-rooted passion exists for an art that’s process is usually conceived as abstract, is because of how non-abstract the core of what defines cinema is. In fact, cinema is synonymous with reality insofar as the line which separates the two is a thin one, if at all it exists. This film, as much of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s oeuvre and Iranian cinema of the era in general does, illustrates this beautifully on multiple levels — through form, story, dialogue (is it real or scripted?), emotions, defining the “actor,” the relationship between art and humanity, etc.
Iranian cinema traditionally deals with ideas regarding truth — itself an abstract word that can be interpreted and analyzed in various ways. In Salaam Cinema, we’re asked to not only celebrate cinema as an art form that allows us to create stories of fiction, but to reconsider how truly fictitious it is, or ponder the role that reality has within film — something Iranian filmmakers such as Makhmalbaf, Kiarostami, and Panahi made careers exploring. In other words, one of the questions being asked is; what is the role of truth in a work of cinematic fiction? Truth exists in cinema because of the role reality plays in cinema.
Is Salaam Cinema a documentary, or is it scripted? When watching, it’s very hard to tell, and while there may be an official answer; part of the response is surely that it simply does not matter. If it’s a documentary, how much does the misleading prompts and circumstances intentionally put in place by Makhmalbaf distort the integrity of the “reality” being documented? We see the actors cry and laugh not only “on command,” but also in responses to the circumstances Makhmalbaf heaps upon them. And if it’s scripted, whose to say what we watched isn’t real if the ideas communicated by the filmmakers and actors (or “subjects”) are genuine and in service of a truth?
Close to the end of the film, Makhmalbaf makes the following statement:
“There was room for all of you. The cinema is for everyone. If the cinema reflects on life, then there’s room for everyone.”
It’s really this simple. If cinema is ‘the art for the people, for everyone,’ which in a sense is what film was considered to be from its genesis (celebrating the centennial of cinema is the purpose of this film in the first place); then it can’t be all fiction. Iranian filmmakers have made this argument more compelling, convincing and clear than anyone; but the general idea is hard to refute. The people behind a film, the ideas, the emotions, love, joy, sadness — it’s all real in one way or another and these are the emotions that dictate both humans and actors. It is for this reason that a perceived form of fiction (cinema) could have such a deep-rooted affect on so many people; because of the humanity so beautifully emphasized by Iranian filmmakers, but also because of the fact that all film, no matter the varying levels of fiction involved, is (or perhaps must be) a reflection of real life.
Ultimately, what Makhmalbaf illustrates here is that, just as how one young woman in the film passionately asserts that art and humanity are not contradictory, so too are both reality and film made up of a combination of truth and fiction. These two things, just as with art and humanity, are not mutually exclusive. In fact, Makhmalbaf goes as far as to suggest that perhaps they are even a necessary part of each other, and that’s the real power of cinema — that’s why films mean so much to so many different people.
NOTE: It’s available to rent on Vimeo✌️
MY RATING /5:
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