Histories of Cinema
May 3, Friday
19:00. Introduction by Santos Zunzunegui
20:00. Through the Olive Trees, (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1994, 108 min.)
An actor who calls himself Mohamad Ali Keshavarz addresses the audience to explain that his role in the film that has just started is that of a film director who is about to carry out auditions among young students to choose the protagonist of a film that is about to be shot. It is 30 May 1993 and we are in Koker, 350 km north of Tehran, where a devastating earthquake had taken place a year earlier. Several young people are preselected, including the one that will finally be chosen for the main role, Tahereh Ladania.
After the credits, an immense forward travelling shot from a car introduces us to the film locations while two voices, one female and one male, talk about a piece of chalk needed for the clapperboard. The masculine voice remembers seeing a clapperboard for the first time when, in that same setting, Where Is the Friend's Home? was filmed The masculine voice turns out to belong to the person who played the role of the teacher in that film, while the female voice is that of Mrs. Shiva, the production secretary for the film that they are just about to start shooting. To the compliments on his performance that he receives from the woman, the masculine voice responds by saying it was not surprising that he played the part well because that was his profession in real life.
After leaving the teacher at a crossroads, Mrs. Shiva heads to Tahereh Ladania’s house. She discovers that Tahereh is not at home, having left at dawn to pick up a dress from a friend for the filming. After resolving the conflict between the film-makers’ wishes (a traditional villager dress) and those of the future actress, who reminds Mrs. Shiva that students no longer wear those outdated clothes, they leave together for the filming location. On the way they pick up the Ahmadpur brothers (the two protagonists of Where Is the Friend's Home?) who are heading for their improvised school made up of tents in the middle of the countryside.
A clapperboard announces the filming of the first take, shot 1 from scene 4 of the new film. After three unsuccessful takes, the young man chosen for the main role declares that whenever he has to speak in front of a young woman he can’t help stuttering. It becomes clear that the young man must be replaced. The replacement for the role in question is Hossein Rezai, who serves as a “jack of all trades” in the cinema troupe’s camp. Shiva picks up Hossein and makes him rehearse the role during the car journey. After getting through a traffic jam created by bricklayers who are working in various reconstruction works, they arrive at the improvised set. But things are not going well here either: Tahereh ignores Hossein and does not give him the expected replies.
Hossein and the director in the car. The young man, when questioned by the director, confesses that when he was working as a bricklayer opposite Tahereh’s house he unsuccessfully courted her, being rejected by the young woman’s parents. That night the earthquake destroyed the town and led to the death of Tahereh’s parents, whose only living relative is her grandmother – a grandmother who turns out to be equally inflexible with the impassioned young man (“I thought that it had been my heart’s cry that had destroyed the houses”) and will remind him that he cannot aspire to the hand of the young student because he is “illiterate and homeless”.
Flashback: Hossein in the improvised cemetery that takes in the victims from the area. He bumps into Tahereh who ignores him. Following the young woman’s grandmother, in a small wood, our hero runs into a film crew that is shooting And life goes on, the film that contains the root scene that serves as a starting point for Through the Olive Trees. They beg him not to interfere with the shooting.
The sound of a horn brings us back to the present. The director’s car (in which Hossein is riding) and Mrs. Shiva’s van (with Tahereh inside) stop next to each other. Mrs. Shiva gets out of her van and approaches the director’s window, secretively, to let him know that she has convinced the student to continue filming. Tahereh looks at Hossein out of the corner of her eye and immediately averts her gaze.
While Shiva takes Tahereh home, in the cinema troupe’s camp they begin preparing for dinner and a well-earned rest. The next morning the cook tells the director that Hossein has spent the whole night memorising his lines for the sequence that is to be filmed that day.
Filming resumes. In front of the young couple’s house (the scene that appears in And life goes on) they film take after take (scene 14, which contains a dialogue between Hossein and the “nameless” director of And life goes on). The shot is gradually adapted as the director adds elements that he had not originally intended but that reality forces him to include. Meanwhile, in a frame that is not the one that is being shot, we witness the unsuccessful attempts of Hossein to convince Tahereh to accept him as her husband, arguing that she should not confuse the character he has to play with who he really is and that their married life would not be anything like that of the couple portrayed in the film that is being shot.
Having finally filmed the intended shot, the team leaves the filming location. Tahereh prefers to walk on foot, cross country, while Hossein waits for the departure of the van. Encouraged by the director, Hossein sets off in pursuit of Tahereh and reaches her in a small wood. Hossein continues to insist in his attempts to convince the student to marry him (“I know you love me,” he tells her, “but you are afraid of your grandmother”). The young girl carries on walking, unmoved, until she reaches the zigzagging path that ascends a hill and that appeared previously in Where Is the Friend's Home?When Tahereh disappears behind the hilltop, Hossein sets off again in pursuit. He reaches the summit next to a lonely tree and scans the horizon.
A very wide general shot. The faintest silhouette of Tahereh can be seen as a dot between the olive trees and the green grass. Hossein runs down the hill to become another small dot moving in the landscape. The wind blows and in the background we begin to hear music from the introductory larghetto from the Concert for Oboe and strings in C major by Cimarosa. Slowly, the two distant dots that represent the couple approach each other until they almost melt into one. Then the music changes to an allegro giusto. And the little white dot that represents Hossein changes his direction and starts a wild race towards us.
 There is no such concert by Domenico Cimarosa. The work consists of the orchestration by the Australian musician and conductor Arthur Benjamin, for the oboist Evelyn Barbirolli, of four sonatas for pianoforte by the Italian musician.
June 8, Saturday
19:00. Introduction by Santos Zunzunegui
20:00. Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1999, 268 min.)