A Passionate, Cheerful, and Troubling Film

Just one image among others—but this is the image that best symbolizes the stark power of Ten, the new film by Abbas Kiarostami: A young Iranian woman is sitting in a car, on the passenger side. Conversing with the woman driving the car, she talks about a man who has left, a man she was thinking of marrying. She weeps. Then she loosens her scarf, suddenly uncovering her shaved head. Between laughter and tears, she admits she feels much better this way.

In a country where people know the force of these symbols—the scarf, hair—the seeming simplicity of the scene takes on a resonance all its own. That is how it is for Ten, which lays down its cards one by one, all the better to capture the full spectrum of Iranian society. Ten cards. Ten sequences. Ten encounters between a driver and her passengers: her son, her sister, a prostitute, an old woman, filmed with alternating stationary shots of each partner in the conversation. (Those familiar with Kiarostami’s universe can use their free time to reflect on the car as both a metaphorical element and one that drives the plot.)

No, it is not boring, not for a single second. Ten is an absolutely fascinating film, both cheerful and troubling. Kiarostami, who is already a master in the art of distillation, pushes his formal process to an extreme degree of systematization—the same types of scenes, the same value given to the shots, the same dramatic art based on a conversation—in order to better uncover the truth of the situations and the feelings that dwell therein. And through this radical stripping down, we manage to read the frustrations and hopes of a society that is both immobile and changing.