Salam Cinema Review

To celebrate cinema's centenary, one of Iran's foremost director's, Mohsen Makhmalbaf puts an advert in the local newspapers looking for candidates to act in his new film. The film opens with scenes of chaos as 5000 Tehranis arrive to audition for a part - Makhmalbaf isn't too sure how to proceed from here but his assistants manage to whittle down the crowd to a more manageable size of a hundred prospective actors. Sat behind a desk, Makhmalbaf tries to determine who shall be able to make it into the film - or so it seems to them.

Salam Cinema plays with our perception of what cinema is supposed to be and what it is. Despite the appearance of being a simple documentary about Makhmalbaf auditioning people for his new film, the viewer rapidly understands the film he is making is in fact what we are watching... Makhmalbaf seems to be playing himself but is displaying a rather strange view of directing and acting - for him, an actor must be able to cry or laugh within 10 seconds; if not, they are no actor. In the same way as Close-Up manipulated our perspective of what was true, Salam Cinema masquerades as a documentary but in fact seeks to reveal a completely different truth.

Taking the film too literally would be a grave mistake: it would make for rather dull viewing if it were nothing more than an audition session with a rather stupid director. The political parralels are rather disreet though often detectable - the unquestioned authority of the director, his control of people's behaviour and what is seen by the audience probably made for some uncomfortable viewing in governmental circles though the film's setting made it difficult to censor...

Although it will probably mainly appeal to viewers with a good knowledge of Iranian cinema, the questions raised by Salam Cinema are universal in nature and just as relevant in the West as they are in Iran: what do films reveal? Are they a true reflection of our society or a fictive state of mind? Where does truth end and fiction begin?

The DVD:Released as part of the Iran collection from MK2, the DVD is part of a set of five films though no boxset is yet available.

The image: Strangely enough we don't get an anamorphic transfer - the transfer is fullscreen and in the original aspect ratio of 1.66. The transfer itself is something like 1.56:1 but that seems to be done to compensate for the problem of overscanning on most TVs rather than MK2 cropping the film... The source used is pretty clean though the source material seems at times slightly grainy and lacking in "zing" but that seems to be down to the material used for the filming and the cinematographer's intentions...

The sound and the subtitles:We get the original mono mix which is ample given the documentary nature of the piece. The voices are generally very well mixed despite the off-the-cuff recording technique. The English subtitles are pretty much error-free and seem to translate accurately what's going on though at times they seem to compress a little too much what's going on.

The menus:We get the usual functional but sober MK2 style menus with part of the soundtrack playing in the background... They are solely in French but shoudln't be too complicated for english speakers...

Extras:Please note none of the extras are subtitled in EnglishMK2 have really gone to town with the extras here. First of all those that relate directly to the film are a short introduction to the film (I'd give it a miss until you've seen the film) by Mahmoud Chokrollahil lasting less than 2 minutes and a 10 minute commentary on the film by a Sorbonne professor who talks about various aspects of the film, the background and other issues as well as comments on what happened to various characters in the film. Both of these extras are worthwhile a look into as they both offer some help in deciphering the film especially for those who are not that familiar with Makhmalbaf.

Then there's a second load of extras that are less clearly related to the film. We get a 50 minute long documentary on the real person behind Abbas Kiarostami's Close-up - as Close-up looked at the difference between fiction and fact, there are obvious parralels with Salam Cinema though the extra would probably fit better on a DVD with Close-up. If you haven't seen Close-Up it may be a confusing extra but if you have it's a great extra.
Added to this there's 2 short-films by other Iranian directors - What's he seeing? which has no dialogue whatsover and is a rather surreal piece of work and The Candidate which is almost an Iranian Candid Camera with an old lady approaching random women in the street to see if they will marry her son.

Conclusions:As usual MK2 have done an excellent job - bar the lack of anamorphic enhancement, this is an outstanding release. The extras are top-notch (though sadly not subtitled in English) and bar the lack of anamorphic enhancement

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