Salaam Cinema: unlikely journeys in documentary
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After such roller-coaster fiction films as The Peddler (1987), The Cyclist (1989) and Marriage of the Blessed (1989), the Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf went on to celebrate the first centenary of cinema with the production of an explosive hybrid, Salaam Cinema (1995), with which he managed to rock the increasingly complacent boat of Western cinema at Cannes that year. The film opens with verit sequences that show a crowd of thousands of aspirants, who responded to an advertisement by the renowned director, to audition for a part in his next film.Thereafter, Salaam Cinema depicts Makhmalbaf and his assistants in a film studio interviewing and recording the performances of those selected. In doing so, the film paints a fascinating portrait of the role that cinema's mythologies, especially those of Western cinema, play in Iranian culture. Drawing a powerful parallel between the cinematic and the social realms, this is a furiously self-reflexive and meta-textual film (where the film within the film is only an imagined and desired one), which effectively complicates any easy distinctions between fiction and documentary. Indeed, in order to generate this culturally situated meditation on the universal phenomenon of cinema, Makhmalbaf moves away from the fictional approach of his previous films. Salaam Cinema's key motivation is a desire to engage with the real, as witnessed in early cinema.
Originally published in the Asian Cinema Journal 16(1):108-116.
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