Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
*coughs and clears throat*
As in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968), I am in the imperative need to make a dissected analysis of the film in so-called Levels of reality and meta-reality to uncover both the real-life aspects from the cinematic medium and the moral subtext hidden within (if you paid close attention, I already gave you the heads-up of three levels by now).
In the tradition of Kiarostami's masterpiece Close-Up (1990), Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf constructs a semiautobiographical meta-commentary account of his real life experience (kill some neurons). Why, then, to use a fictionalized real account rather than a real-life, documented account about a real-life event? In my humble opinion, Makhmalbaf also wants to explore, similarly to Kiarostami but with different priorities, the power of cinema in order to make amends about a criminal act committed in what, maybe, he is self-justifying it as a "moment of innocence".
+ Level 1: Real life.- When Makhmalbaf was a teenager, he stabbed a policeman at a protest rally. This is the whole subtext, but not the main plot of the film, and therefore is visually unavailable to the viewer.
+ Level 2: Extremely brief documentary fragments.- These fragments are represented by the clapperboard which, in tradition, are used to synchronize picture and sound. In this case, they introduce the film, and are meant to synchronize fiction with reality.
+ Level 3: The dramatized film that we see.- The plot opens 20 years after the Level 1 real-life event, with an aged policeman looking for the house of the real-life director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to call on an old debt. The policeman was knifed by Makhmalbaf, but the director was sent to prison. Makhmalbaf had also promised to put the policeman in a film documenting the events in an attempt to make amends. After the visit, Makhmalbaf is inspired to make a film, but hires different crews and actors to recreate the scene in the real-life crime scene of Level 1.
+ Level 4: The dramatized shooting of the crime scene.- The level featuring the most iconic scene of Level 3, which is the main level this review is really about, presents some hypnotic imagery and score to evoke in the viewer feelings of unease, nostalgia and even self-reflection (read immediately below).
+ Level 5: The actual making of this film.- All feature films, by definition, have this level. This is a compliment to Level 1, and it refers to the director making this film, and even directing himself. We do not see this level inside the film; it is necessary to resort to behind-the-scenes footage.
Level 3 is the most important level cinematically speaking, while Level 4 is the most important level morally speaking, because A Moment of Innocence is the real-life attempt by the director to make amends with himself in real-life (Level 1), immortalizing it with Level 3; ergo, Level 4 is his "Level-1" exercise of self-reflection. In this attempt of self-reflection, he adds a twist to Level 3: the perspective of the director is different than that of the policeman. According to the policeman, the story was really about his love for a pretty young girl, purity symbolized by the white flower. From the director's perspective, however, the attack was planned by the director himself along with the girl that the cop saw, because the director and the girl had a humanitarian cause in mind. The remarkable climax of Level 3 shows the policeman's epiphany, leading to a conflict I had never seen in cinema, with its moral implications for all parties involved.
In Level 3, Makhmalbaf also plays with identities. If he had attempted to make a documentary, the real-life people would be needed. Perhaps he deemed this as dangerous or insensitive. Therefore, he made a feature film, not a documentary - same reasons why Close-Up is more a film than a documentary, and therefore qualifies as a film because of the undeniable presence of fictionalized representations. With this in hand, he directs, writes and acts in the film, as a master of all Levels, from 1 to 4, but he confesses his lack of expertise in Level 4, because he seems to be suggesting that he hasn't come to terms with himself by the time the film was made. If the film is an apology letter, it is obvious that the sole creation of the film had Makhmalbaf saying sorry to the people involved in the Level 1 event, and probably also trying to forgive himself through a Level 3 immortalization: the power of cinema. So, he is a master of the first three Levels, given that this film is a masterpiece, and he was the perpetrator of the act described in Level 1, but there's some inner damage to be fixed.
Conclusion: Level 3 is meant to help Level 4, which will definitely make Level 1 easier to digest personally. This purpose offers Level 2 as an evidence. Thank God for Level 5.
No wonder why the shooting of Level 4 has different technical qualities and cinematography, already described, than Level 3, where the tracking shots are more documentary-like, symmetric and sometimes static, rather than haunting and POV-like.