Criterion presents Abbas Kiarostamiís Close-Up in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
The film had a fairly unorthodox shoot, the style of the film a sort-of blend of fiction and documentary, and because of this the image varies throughout but as a whole it remains consistent and stable. Its problems can be primarily attributed to the source materials; however I will admit I was expecting much worse. Vertical scratches appear throughout and are noticeable, as are some other minor marks. The film jumps between film stocks, which I believe are 35mm and 16mm, and the quality of the image does suffer when it makes the move to 16mm. The 35mm sequences look the best, presenting far more detail and clarity, while the 16mm sequences are extremely grainy, somewhat fuzzy, and limited in detail (in all honesty I canít say I detected much of a difference in these sequences when comparing the DVD edition of the film and this Blu-ray, the Blu-ray maybe handling the graininess a little better.)
Colours are reasonably saturated, maybe looking to be more on the yellow side or faded, but again I feel this is because of the source. The digital transfer itself is perfectly fine, presenting no distracting artifacts and it presents a wonderfully crisp image. In all those that worked on the transfer have done what they can with it, cleaning up where possible, and they also worked hard to also give us the sharpest image possible. In the end I feel itís the best weíll see it. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion has included some great supplements on here and have easily outdone themselves. All features on this Blu-ray are presented in 1080i/60hz.
First is an audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and filmmaker Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa. Though I guess it was maybe a little lighter than I would have expected itís a surprisingly breezy track to get through. The two offer their own analysis and interpretations of the film, and also offer their insights into Kiarostamiís body of work. Mehrnaz gets into the politics of Iran during the time, including the state of filmmaking before and after the revolution such as the many limitations she and others faced. Thereís talk about the different classes in Iran, the people in general, and both of the commentators comment on the case itself and the people involved, as well as point out Kirostamiís influences over them. As a whole itís a fascinating track, very informative, and actually entertaining, something I must admit was a surprise itself.
The next feature is possibly the best one, though honestly all of the features on here are great so itís somewhat hard to rank them. Criterion has included Kiarostamiís first feature film, The Traveler, made in 1974 and running 73-minutes. At its simplest the film tells the story of a disobedient and, well, rather awful young boy who decides to raise money to travel to Tehran to see a football/soccer game, this pastime and obsession of his causing problems at school, at home, and ultimately with his peers. Itís a rather good film (and deserves its own edition,) surprisingly brisk as well, but its inclusion may seem a little odd at first. But its purpose is more than just to present Kiarostamiís first film as it does relate to Close-Up in a number of ways. Other than the music appearing in Close-Up, its principal, Hossein Sabzian (who posed as Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf,) compares himself to the young protagonist in The Traveler while making a statement in court. Kiarostami apparently scripted some of Sabzianís lines (if not all of them) so I do wonder if this bit was added in by the director as well, who may have seen him as the same type of person, whereas the young protagonist in this film gets into trouble because of his passion for the sport, Sabzian gets into trouble because of his passion for film. In that regard it makes a great double-feature and is a fantastic inclusion on Criterionís part.
The transfer for The Traveler is acceptable, probably looking far better than most would suspect, but it still has its issues. Itís presented in 1080i and there is unfortunately plenty of artifacting because of this, including jaggies and shimmering. Detail is surprisingly good on the other hand, and the image does remain sharp, yet the black and white image looks to have been boosted a little, presenting unnaturally bright whites. The print is in surprisingly good shape, with some minor marks appearing throughout but there is damage consostently present at the bottom of the screen. The interlacing is disappointing, but it still looked better than I would have thought.
Close Up Long Shot is another sharp inclusion, a 1996 documentary about Hossein Sabzian. Running 44-minutes itís actually a somewhat distressing update on the man, counteracting Close-Upís somewhat hopeful presentation of a dreamer. Whereas Sabzianís love of cinema comes off as a beautiful thing in the main feature, here itís presented as a devastating obsession, pretty much destroying the man. Though intelligent, Sabzianís obsession has consumed him so much he puts everything else around him at a distance, including his family (which he did lose, as mentioned in the main feature) and his job. Many interviews present people explaining how Sabzian is a good man overall, but he lives in his own fantasy world, one man even coming right out and telling him heís untrustworthy since he keeps telling lies to everyone around him because of his fantasies. A co-worker, who used to work under Sabzian but is now his boss explains how Sabzianís love of film hurt his career in the long run. The most depressing aspect, though, is when we get interviews with Sabzian in his small apartment where he has only a few belongings, including two books: The Qurían and a book on shooting in Super 8. These segments are beyond depressing and present, again, an intelligent man, but also one that is unstable and incredibly unhappy. He blames film for where he is in life, but at the same time he still loves it, to an unnatural degree. Kiarostami apparently saw this documentary and was upset by it and itís easy to see why. Itís not an easy view but itís worth watching after the film, especially for moments where Sabzian, and others, talk about the film, which as suspected was fabricated in many parts, even the courts.
Next is a 27-minute interview with Abbas Kiarostami recorded exclusively for this release. He talks about sequences in the film, making fun of peopleís reading of the opening with the can rolling down the hill, and how he was able to get his camera into the courtroom, which he states is surprisingly easy in Iran, where it would be difficult in most other places. Itís obvious he had a lot of sway on the outcome, though he doesnít get into much detail here. He mentions Sabzian, and running into him again, the man having not changed one bit. Despite being a frustrating man to work with on Close-Up Kiarostami did have plans to make another film with him (it sounds like it was to be a follow-up/sequel) but just before shooting began Sabzian went into a coma after an asthma attack and died shortly thereafter. One of the more interesting aspects to the interview was probably his working with director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who Sabzian impersonated for a few days. You can detect some frustration in this portion of the interview, specifically when Kiarostami talks about the ending. SPOILER FOLLOWS: When Sabzian gets to meet Makhmalbaf, which is certainly emotional to Sabzian, the director seemed to be unaware of the emotional impact and just talked about inconsequential matters. Kiarostami was annoyed by this and decided to drop the audio in this portion of the film, which he admits probably worked out far better and made more of an impact. Another excellent inclusion and itís fantastic that Criterion was able to get the director to participate on this release.
The final supplement on here is a 2002 documentary called A Walk with Kiarostami, filmed in Ireland over 2 days by Professor Jamsheed Akrami. It opens with the two on a ferry and then moves to them walking down a road on a rainy day, Kiarostami taking photographs of the landscape. Itís a fairly loose though informative piece, the director, who is walking ahead of Akrami and the cameraman, talking about photography, how he shoots, and what he looks for, as are his comments about working outside of Iran and how he isnít concerned about success or failure (he feels his audience is too small to worry about such things.) He muses about philosophy, recalls poems, and answers questions Akrami throws at him. Itís a great, candid piece, but the most interesting aspects of it are Kiarostami explaining how he photographs and whatís beautiful to him. Heís also fairly funny, far more relaxed here than he was in the interview Criterion filmed for this release.
The release then closes with a slim booklet that includes an essay by Godfrey Cheshire, which is an excellent read, summarizing most everything else in the supplements, offering his own thoughts on the film, and giving more details about the case itself.
In all this is one of the most satisfying collection of supplements Iíve come across this year. While there may be more material out there, Criterion has managed to thoroughly cover the film and its subject matter, as well as give a deeper look into Kiarostamiís work (making up for the lack of material on their DVD for Taste of Cherry.) 10/10