Close-up by Abbas Kiarostami (1989) is an Iranian docu-fiction based on the real life event of a man, Mr. Hossein Sabzian, who has an immense passion for films, passing himself off as a famous director, Mr. Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film traces the motives of Mr. Hossein Sabzian for lying to the Ahankhah family, who are of a wealthy and honorable status.


 Close-up can be considered Kiarostami’s defining film as it invited critical attention from film critics when it was released. For a start, many of the scenes are dramatized reenactments of real events that were performed not by hired actors but by the same people who were involved in the original court case. Kiarostami also directs these actors to “break the forth wall” by looking directly into the camera on some instances.

Kiarostami adopts a three pronged narrative instead of the usual two in Close-up. The Film Sufi elaborates further on the three narratives by claiming that:

  1. The syuzhet as it appears in the sequence of images presented to the viewer.
  2. The fabula that we, the viewers, construct concerning the original events of Sabzian impersonating Makhmalbaf.
  3. The fabula that we also construct concerning Kiarostami’s cinematic reconstruction of what happened. This is significant, because Kiarostami, who is both the author and a viewer, turns out to be one of the principal characters in this multi-layered story.


The film commences with a 15-minute sequence showing Farazmand, a journalist, and two soldiers getting into a taxi. During the journey, to Ahankhah’s house to arrest Hossein Sabzian, the taxi driver often stops the car to ask for directions. We can see that this is clearly a fiction-film beginning but it evolves into a documentary once the film titles appear on screen and Kiarostami starts interviewing the police. Hence, viewers are always questioning whether these scenes are authentic or staged.

In filming the film, Abbas Kiarostami uses simple shots to explain a very complex issue. People often described the film as ‘a mirror facing a mirror’

His films usually involve car rides where he reveals the story plot.

Close Up_2 Close Up_1  Close Up_6    

Kiarostomi’s stamp on utilising direct sound is also seen here, where he records dialogue with an elementary microphone set-up. Although clarity is sacrificed, there is a hint of realism involved as incidental sounds from nearby surroundings are picked up and ultimately allowing us to perceive these scenes as how we would in real life.

Another iconic scene is the rolling can scene, i think this scene the director try to detaches us from the scene by shooting something else so that we can think further. This scene is actually a build up to the end scene. There is a link.

Close Up_5

Close Up_8 

Close Up_7

The court scene was authentic and the two- camera scheme make us feel we are the audience in the scene due to its angle and framing. The wide-angle shot filmed the legal proceedings while most of the time the close-up camera remains on Hossein Sabzian.

Close Up_3

Kiarostami explains the technical aspects of the zoom lens to Sabzian and then the audience sees his head and members of the family such as the eldest son and the mother in the background.

Reference : http://www.projectorhead.in/one/closeup.html

Close Up_4


cap173 close_up

One of the last scenes in the film really touched me as Hossain Sabzian who posed as Makhmalbaf in the film managed to see his idol at the end while they are the on their way to seek for forgiveness from the Ahankhah family.


Close up makes us questions about life and its meaning and it is totally relatable It reflects on the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in society and on how dominant and powerful media has gotten. And in turn how much of an impact media can cause. This film also brings out a few aspects in terms of art and religion. A film slow-paced and so close to the heart, it reflected two different sides of the story and teaches us that there is always a reason behind every one’s action. In Hossain Sabzian’s case, he did what he did due to his love for art and film. And thus, I was able to relate to this film on a personal level. The film is told in a non-chronological order and it is based on real life events. I believe that the objective of this film is to show the act of forgiveness


Geoff Andrew had once said that Kiarostami had “abandoned all normal notions of scriptwriting and indeed the distinction between documentary and fiction”. (The Guardian, Geoff Andrew) In the interview, Kiarostami had said that “Close-up has affected later films that [he’s] made”. (The Guardian, Abbas Kiarostami) In Close Up, Kiarostami had used the actual people involved in the original incident instead of casting actors in their roles. Most of the film was reenactments of what had happened.

Kiarostami was one of the few directors who remained in Iran after the 1979 revolution, when many of his peers fled the country. He is part of the Iranian New Wave and has a reputation for using child protagonists, his documentary-style narrative films, stories that take place in rural villages, and for conversations that unfold inside cars, using stationary mounted cameras. He is also known for his use of contemporary Iranian poetry in the dialogue, titles, and themes of his films.

Author :Chew Keng Hao , An aspiring director and director of photography. You can find out more about him via : http://chewkenghao.wix.com/kenghao

References :











the Guardian. 2005. Abbas Kiarostami. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2005/apr/28/hayfilmfestival2005.guardianhayfestival [Accessed: 6 Jul 2013].

8 thoughts on “Close-Up (1989, Abbas Kiarostami)

  1. Keng Hao, this response is not completed yet yes? Pls do so asap. Read the CA brief on critical response and also on Blackboard FAQ on CA, as well as other entries by your classmates to get an idea what is expected.

  2. Hey Keng Hao, I realized that you put Close-Up as a 1989 film but it was actually released in 1990. Both Wikipedia and IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100234/) documented it as a 1990 film. Maybe you could change it when doing your final edit before submission? (:

    I added in certain details which you should improve on. You should research more on how Kiarostami has affected the film industry with his films (historical significance).

  3. Well, I can really see your enthusiasm to become a DOP in the future! I feel like you focused a bit too much on the aesthetical aspect of the film, you gave very detailed explanations on the cinematography or mise-en-scene when you could have written more about the film’s historical or cultural impact. For instance, when you say “Close-up has affected later films that [he’s] made”. you should reference his later works, and how they are different. Overall, it seems you’ve given a lot of examples on the film’s technicalitites, but you haven’t sufficiently explored its thematic background or aspects.

  4. Hi Keng Hao! Haikal here. I helped you add more information to your critical essay. I think you need to elaborate more on what you mean by:

    1) In filming the film, Abbas Kiarostami uses simple shots to explain a very complex issue. People often described the film as ‘a mirror facing a mirror’.

    2) His films usually involve car rides where he reveals the story plot.


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