Kiarostami’s Homework With Saleh Najafi Part. I


22 Aug Kiarostami’s Homework With Saleh Najafi Part. I

The Homework is one of the most famous works in Abbas Kiarostami’s filmography and in a way a representation of his thinking structure as well as a womb that gave birth to his other films. This film, negates all the images that have been portrayed of the director’s character both by circles with ties to the government and by the bourgeoisie associated with the art and cinema scene. The children seen in this work, are the children of war. Born in the period between the Islamic revolution and the Iran – Iraq war, the mere choice of having them participate in this film is an attempt to present a historical narrative of this eight year period.

Kiarostami reaches seminal filmmaking form with The Homework and Close-up, yet the formation of his professional, aesthetic and political view happens between the creation of The Homework and ABC Africa. He creates ABC Africa at the peak of his professional career and while this film might be his least popular, it is important because it speaks of Kiarostami’s worldview. To analyze The Homework with the approach of reviewing Kiarostami’s whole artistic career in the context of one film, we will focus on three main points, points which were hinted at by Kiarostami himself in an interview In Ten on Ten, a 2004 documentary featuring ten short scenes in which Abbas Kiarostami speaks in a car on his work in filming 2001’s Ten. Referring to the production of ABC Africa – his first feature length digital production, and which was shot in Uganda – he says:

“I felt that a 35mm camera would limit both us and the people there, whereas the video camera displayed truth from every angle, and not a forged truth. To me this camera was a discovery. Like a God it was all encompassing, omnipresent. The camera could turn 360 degrees and thus reported the truth, an absolute truth.”

Therefore this cinema is one in pursuit of recording the absolute truth. The first point of this discussion, is the philosophical representation of this pursuit for the absolute truth in Kiarostami’s cinema. The second point, which we’ll call The Godless Theology, is the result of this pursuit and the theological aspect of his cinema. The third and final point, titled The Communism of Faces will analyze the political aspect of Kiarostami’s cinema.

Matthew Abbott, in and article Titled The Appearance of Appearance: Absolute Truth in Abbas Kiarostami’s ABC Africa, puts forth the question that what are the moral and political aspect of this film? and more importantly how this film clarifies the philosophical potentials of its medium? He refers to the though experiments introduced in his 1929 lecture on ethics.

I felt that a 35mm camera would limit both us and the people there, whereas the video camera displayed truth from every angle, and not a forged truth. To me this camera was a discovery. Like a God it was all encompassing, omnipresent. The camera could turn 360 degrees and thus reported the truth, an absolute truth.

“Wittgenstein hit on this with clarity in his 1929 lecture on ethics. Here he proposed a thought experiment: imagine an omniscient person – someone who knows every fact about the world since the beginning of time – decided to write a big book containing all his knowledge. Such a book would be perfectly encyclopedic; it “would contain the whole description of the world.” Yet such a book, Wittgenstein argued, “would contain nothing that we would call an ethical judgment or anything that would logically imply such a judgment.” It would seem there is no logical difference between a proposition like ‘she saw him’ and one like ‘she murdered him,’ no logical difference between ‘the stone fell’ and ‘the stone fell, killing a child.’ In the world there are simply events, and the moral distinctions we make between them are projections – or so the experiment seems to show.”

The result of this thought experiment, is that is even by possessing all of the facts in the universe, it is impossible to form a ethical judgement and in the absence of a powerful moral reference, the world would be a terrifying place. As it has happened after the first World War, in Wittgenstein’s opinion. He concluded that the ethical has a different relation to the facts. In the ethical philosophy of the 20th century there was a question that wether it’s possible to extract some sort of ethical norm from the facts? even a branch of post Hegel Marxists believed that the ethical can be aligned with the facts. This dilemma did not convince Wittgenstein and he rephrased the question:

“If a complete description of all the facts that make up the world would contain nothing of genuine ethical significance, then either our ethical life is based on arbitrary emotional responses to what occurs, or it is bound up with something other than the facts of the matter at hand, something other than factual content. It is important that when in this lecture Wittgenstein goes on to (try to) talk about what he calls “absolute or ethical value,” he describes the experience of it in terms of a feeling of wonder at the existence of the world. ”

Wittgenstein speaks of a poetic force here, a force that can not be described or recorded in that rhetorical encyclopedia. In other words, the appearance of the world to its subjects is nothing like the truth as it is often defined. To elaborate, it is necessary to review the two major philosophical theories about truth: The Correspondence Theory and the Coherence theory. In the late 19th century, before the introduction of Nietzsche’s philosophy, the prevalent idea was that the actualities are far from the truth and one put aside the veil of appearances in order to reach the absolute truth. Nietzsche on the other hand, believed that shining the light of these appearances is the way towards the absolute truth. In this discussion, it will become evident that  Kiarostami is attempting to present the audience with the absolute truth by ‘Making the appearance, appear.’ This truth is as absolute as it is ordinary and common, and it is seen in the most simple aspects of everyday life.

The paradox of displaying the absolute truth can be found in the word ‘Screen’ which can be defined both as a means to conceal or to show a film. in book titled Abbas Kiarostami: The Evidence of Film Jean-Luc Nancy writes that this wordplay can even be seen in the world ‘Film’ itself.


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