Facets Video, $26.95
THOSE FASCINATED by Mohsen Makhmalbaf's current Kandahar will be even more transfixed by the Feb. 19 DVD release of this brilliant 1990 Iranian film, which features both Makhmalbaf and Hossein Sabzian, a man put on trial for impersonating the famous director. (All the concerned parties play themselves in re-enacted episodes that alternate with actual trial footage.) Directed by Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), Close-Up arrives with few extras, but the colors and subtitles are crisp, its story unforgettable.
A movie-mad nobody, poor Hossein has ingratiated himself into the household of an upper-middle-class Tehran family, one of whose sons amusingly jumps at the chance to become an actor. In court, Hossein's humble testimony and evident love for cinema are profoundly convincing—although Kiarostami leaves open the possibility he's still acting. It's all a bit like Six Degrees of Separation, with everyone seeking the camera's supposed power of validation. Yet for Kiarostami, absolute truths are ephemeral; everyone plays a role.
The disc's bonus material amounts to a 10-minute interview (excerpted from the 2000 documentary Friendly Persuasion) in which Kiarostami obdurately shields his eyes with dark glasses. He admits Close-Up can be read as a parable of Iran's national identity crisis, like "a state of collective depression after the big revolution." He also notes Hossein's universal lament of having "no room for using one's imagination."
Fervently wanting something better from his life, then having had his illusions stripped away from him, Hossein's final encounter with Makhmalbaf may move you to tears.
LESS MOVING but more tragic is Tim Blake Nelson's O (Feb. 19), a teen Othello adaptation that had its world premiere at SIFF last year. Like Close-Up, it has a certain ripped- from-the-headlines feel, with a disturbing Columbine vibe Nelson presumably addresses in his commentary; stars Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer, and Josh Hartnett also lend their voices among other extras. The same date sees the routine but effective kid-jeopardy thriller Don't Say a Word, with Michael Douglas. Better bets are two old Czech-language Milos Forman titles Criterion is bringing to disc: Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Firemen's Ball (1967).