Graham Williamson’s review published on Letterboxd:
"A film as big as its director!"
I had read a lot about the extraordinary circumstances that led Mohsen Makhmalbaf to make A Moment of Innocence, so much so that it initially blinded me to how well-told this complex story is. Let me tell you instead how this story begins:
A middle-aged man comes to the house of Mohsen Makhmalbaf. A young girl answers the door - Hana? Samira? An actress playing one of them? He comes in to take part in a project, selecting an actor who will play a young version of himself. He chooses the actor who looks the most like a fashion model, but is overruled in favour of a quieter, younger, more enigmatic boy.
Elsewhere, Makhmalbaf is choosing another young actor to play a young version of himself. He settles on an idealistic young man who claims he wants to save the world. The urge to use cinema to remodel and idealise the artist's past is, of course, a familiar one. But both the protagonists of this film have a darker, more emotional reason for wanting to revisit their youth, which we find out about soon afterwards.
So far this could be a making-of documentary. But the cameras keep following characters even when there should be no camera to follow them, and halfway through the film something happens that ruptures the viewer's sense of reality so much, it made me practically hover out of my seat. The film starts as a comedy of sorts, then becomes a meditation on the sins of the past, then it becomes a love story, and then it ends by opening up onto an even grander plain.
So what is this moment of innocence? Two characters at different points in the film express their doubt in God's forgiveness. Into the void left by God steps art, which has the power to tidy up the pain, the regret, the unfinished business of history and make it into something that a new generation can learn from and use to develop themselves. The back half of A Moment of Innocence is full of instances where history appears to be repeating itself, but is also full of instances where what was planned singularly fails to happen. And the final image throws it open to the viewer, asking which of the film's Borgesian forking paths you will take and carry out into the real world. It really is so emotional and so original - I was caught between a wonder that such a film exists and a despair that I'll never write anything as good myself.