Salaam Cinema ★★★★

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1995 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)

A playful riff on the nature of performance, notable for the heady questions it raises with such unassuming elegance. Makhmalbaf provokes his subjects with a puckishness Lars would envy ("Would you rather be an artist or a humane person?"), but he also frames his manipulation with a simple, ingenious conceit that exposes himself above all. In the great Iranian tradition of self-reflexivity, he plays himself as an intimidating authority figure who places unreasonable demands on real people in order to elicit performances from them. What seems like the prelude to an audition becomes a final performance in his hands, as we watch each participant kowtow, protest, or do both. Acting is the only job you never stop doing.

What distinguishes Salaam Cinema from films like Close-Up or Makhmalbaf's follow-up A Moment of Innocence is the way its different layers arise organically from the straightforward process of documentation. It’s just him directing from within the frame, slyly steering the project to question both the foundations of cinema and its effect on the populace. Its casual brilliance is daunting yet truly inspiring.