PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am


The Hong Kong International Film Festival's Abbas Kiarostami retrospective, which runs until May 1, goes by the title of The Reality of Illusion.

The work that best fits this description is probably the Iranian filmmaker's 1990 film inspired by the real-life story of jobless cinephile Ali Sabzian. He impersonates filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and infiltrates a middle-class household in Tehran, on the pretext of making a film with the family as the leading actors. When exposed, Sabzian was brought to trial. Kiarostami filmed the court proceedings (or a version of it) and had the real protagonists play themselves in a re-enactment of the entire saga. Even more extraordinarily, Kiarostami got Makhmalbaf (left, with Sabzian) to appear - as himself, of course - in a denouement that is hilarious and heart-rending.

In his book about Iranian cinema, Hamid Dabashi puts it well: it's fiction (Kiarostami's film) based on reality (Sabzian's case) based on fiction (Sabzian's charade) based on reality (Makhmalbaf, a real filmmaker) based on fiction (Makhmalbaf, the storyteller). Based on such an unbelievable mix, Kiarostami has achieved an unbelievable feat. Apr 17, 9.30pm, Space Museum; Apr 24, 9pm, HK Arts Centre.