If you think that a film consisting of 10 conversations shot from a car’s dashboard with two digital cameras sounds boring, then you haven’t seen Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002). From this simple premise, Kiarostami, who died in July last year, brings us an insightful look at the problems Iranian women face while delivering enough drama and conflict to hold the attention of the most politically indifferent viewer.
Although Ten unspools like a documentary, it’s actually a fiction, with the characters improvising over outlines they discussed with the director before setting out on their drives.
The film features conversations between a female driver (played by Mania Akbari) and the passengers she drives around Tehran. Some of the dialogue is with her aggressive young son, Amin (Amin Maher, Akbari’s real son), who hasn’t forgiven her for divorcing his father. Other passengers include a prostitute and a friend in a troubled relationship. The outside world passes by as a montage of traffic sounds.
In his early films, Kiarostami used stories of children to make social, if not political, points, thereby circumventing Iran’s harsh censorship laws. But Ten is more direct in its social analysis, and was consequently the first of his films to be banned in the country – four of its sequences were judged unfit for public viewing. The women discuss issues such as discrimination, how they have no legal standing and how a woman can file for a divorce only when her husband has beaten her.
Kiarostami first filmed from the passenger seat of a vehicle in Taste of Cherry (1997), the story of a truck driver who wants to commit suicide. Ten grew out of Kiarostami’s discovery that a psychologist used a car for therapy sessions, as well as his realisation that the interior of a car is one of the few places in Iran that is secluded enough for women to speak freely. He has also noted that the physical space of a car, in which the passengers do not face each other, encourages free talk.
Although Ten is a fiction, Mania Akbari has said that many of the events mentioned in the conversations are based on her life, and that the film is about 80 per cent drawn from her own experience. Akbari went on to become a prolific documentary filmmaker herself while Kiarostami would talk further on the making of Ten in his 2004 documentary, 10 on Ten.
Ten will be screened tomorrow at the Hong Kong Film Archive, in Sai Wan Ho, and on March 5 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre agnès b. Cinema, in Wan Chai. 10 on Ten will be screened on February 1 at the Hong Kong Film Archive, and on March 5 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Both films are screened as part of the Cine Fan programme.