23 Aug Kiarostami’s Homework With Saleh Najafi Part. II
In the closing images of ABC Africa, the ghostlike faces of Ugandan children are superimposed onto the clouds we see from the window of the plane taking Kiarostami and his companions out of the country. Ending the film faces, Abbottt argues reveals, is human appearance itself: the face as apparition. In his essay on the face in the book titled Means without ends Giorgio Agamben writes:
“What the face exposes and reveals is not something that could be formulated as a signifying proposition of sorts, nor is it a secret doomed to remain forever incommunicable… Such a revelation… does not have any real content and does not tell the truth about this or that state of being, about this or that aspect of human beings and of the world: it is only opening, only communicability.”
One the many similarities between Kiarostami’s and Bresson’s cinema is that the way Kiarostami incorporates faces, is a complex expansions of the idea ‘Models as Actor’ that Bresson introduced. Bresson’s use of faces in his films, was in a way that he attempted to display them devoid of any expressions. In that those expressionless faces became the absolute truth. The dialectical result of this attempt was that the faces of the actors lost its human characteristics and the true nature of the appearance was summoned. In Bresson’s films, the characters are seen crying but other than their tears, there are no signs of sorrow of any other emotion present on their faces. As if the characters freeze with the tears clogged their throats. In Homework, Majid is the child that is terrified to stand in front of the camera and seems ready to burst into tears at any moments but does not. This state can be defined by the term Transfiguration. Every other child present in this film has an expressive and implicative face yet to conclude the film, a face is required to go beyond expression and implication and bring forth the state of transfiguration. This is the moment of grace in a godless universe. To answer Agamben that what does the face implicate, it is indeed the essence of implication and communication that is communicated and implicated by the face.
Agamben believes that understanding the truth of the face, is not about understanding their similarities but their simulas (One-ness). This simulates, This great force that aligns the faces together and maintains them as one, is what we call the Communism of Faces. Mankind has always been curious that what might the face of god be and that curiosity has had a great influence on art, especially in church paintings. Agamben explains that it is but the simulates of all the human faces:
“The face is not a simulacrum, in the sense that it is something dissimulating or hiding the truth: the face is the simultas, the being-together of the manifold visages constituting it, in which none of the visages is truer than any of the others. To grasp the face’s truth means to grasp not the resemblance but rather the simultaneity of the vis- ages, that is, the restless power that keeps them together and constitutes their being-in-common. The face of God, thus, is the simultas of human faces: it is “our effigy” that Dante saw in the “living light” of paradise.”
Given that, the death of god which Nietzsche refers to, is in a way the act of pulling away the metaphysical veil and exposing the absolute truth.
Agamben continues: “My face is my outside: a point of indifference with respect to all of my properties, with respect to what is properly one’s own and what is common, to what is internal and what is external.”
To escape the polarity of truth and lies, as Kiarostami calls it, he takes on a method similar to Wittgenstein. By joining the universe he is attempting to display, he also attempts to attach his existential truth to it (As seen in The Homework and Close-up). What remains a paradox is that the filmmaker who is a part of his film’s universe is not able to present is purely as it is and is not able to completely detach himself from it either. Kiarostami sets on a path to solve this paradox.
Zizek believes that the Hegelian dialectic between can be interpreted in two ways. The first and most prevalent is that one reaches towards the truth by increasing her knowledge. In other words the journey towards the attaining knowledge is aided by the will to truth. In this view, arriving at the absolute truth takes place at the moment where truth and knowledge align. To translate this into cinematic dialect, is to portray a universe so perfect that the creator is not present in it for it does not need the perceivable presence of its creator. From this perspective, truth has an essential existence.
The second dialectic interpretation of knowledge and truth, form in Hegelian philosophy. He believed that the mere attempt towards finding the truth is in a way experiencing the truth. Based on that, one can argue that The Homework attempts to bring together – as a Monad – the incidents post revolution Iran in that classroom by questioning and interrogating the children. The audience is made to study the faces of the children but the actual structure of the film forms after Majid enters the setting. All the other faces are, in a way introductions to discover Majid’s face as a narrative about the functional and dysfunctional education systems. In the relationship between knowledge and the truth, the essence of the truth varies with the knowledge. This presents itself in that moments of grace with Majid and his transfiguration symbolizes the unanswered question and the trauma that this education system causes. This weakest link in the chain forces the audience to realize the insufficiency of their knowledge regarding this truth. This is achieved first by including the filmmaker himself in the film and then hinting at that void inside the rhetorical encyclopedia of facts yet the role of the filmmaker in filling that void does not signify a journey from trivial knowledge towards an ultimate and absolute truth. So upon understanding the insufficiency of knowledge, it seems that the truth must be redefined for what was supposed to be the absolute truth before now seems lacking.
This unanswered question guides us to a chapter in Lacan’s psychoanalysis known as the big Other (Autre). Lacan equates this radical alterity with language and the law, and hence the big Other is inscribed in the order of the symbolic. Kiarostami puts himself in the position of the big Other. He is the entity that the children must obey and adapt to but one of them seems to be unable to do that. This is the condition known in psychoanalytic texts as Hysteria. Here is the situation where the person keeps asking oneself a question without knowing the answer. The big Other is thought to know the answer but the more the question is being asked the more it becomes evident that even the big Other does not know the answer. The hysteric manner in which the subject continues asking the question results in the formation of hole in this figure of authority, the big Other and there form a new truth is born. The hysteric person’s desire is translated into the big Other’s desire and the continuous process of questioning in order to understand what the big Other wants, results in a reflective rotation. In other word when the big Other is faced with the question, the question becomes the answer.
“The face is not a simulacrum, in the sense that it is something dissimulating or hiding the truth: the face is the simultas, the being-together of the manifold visages constituting it, in which none of the visages is truer than any of the others. To grasp the face's truth means to grasp not the resemblance but rather the simultaneity of the vis- ages, that is, the restless power that keeps them together and constitutes their being-in-common. The face of God, thus, is the simultas of human faces: it is ``our effigy`` that Dante saw in the ``living light`` of paradise.”
Thus, here the absolute truth is exposed through the appearances themselves, rather through by unveiling them. This is the moment that audience witnesses the becoming of Majid, in a moment that Lacan calls The Real. He describes The Real as the impossible or the unlikely. In metaphysical and spiritual view of The Real is synonymous to the absolute and unattainable, yet Lacan believes that The Real can only take place and to leave the spectator in awe, saying: “This is impossible!”. In The Homework as well, the most unlikely of the characters has been chosen for the process of transfiguration. This element of surprise, is what makes the moment that The Real appears, a shocking and traumatic experience. Meanwhile, the appearance of The Real can be as much satirical as it can be traumatic. The evidence for this in The Homework is the relationship between Majid and his friend Mowlaee, which seem comedic yet is rooted in a terrible experience.
This film’s dilemma, is one of truth and untruth. Like any other worthy artwork, this film acquires its form by the sediment of its content. The content seems to be this simple statement: Contrary to popular belief, children are not pure, innocent and honest. They lie, they are prolific liars and the difference between them and adult liars is that when they are caught, a comedic situation forms. The structure of the film seems to be simple as well: The subjects are through a questionnaire, the locations are a classroom and schoolyard and the omitted element are the same as other works by the director. The presence of women in the movie is pale and the atmosphere is quite masculine.
There is a simple lie in this film which Kiarostami emphasis on through recurrent inserts. The images seen of a cameraman (who is supposed to be recording the interviews) does not correspond with the angle of the actual interviews.It seems like conciously or otherwise, Kiarostami is reflecting the lies children are telling him. In other words he is displaying the fact that the the rhetoric of a documentary pursuit of absolute truth about the education, is subject to change at the presence of the director (the representative of the big Other).
The introductory scene is designed in a way the director’s line of sight matches the children’s. Jonathan Rosenbaum explains in an article about Kiarostami titled From Iran With Love, that Jean-Luc Godard has had a similar experiment in his interviews with children in his 1977-’78 TV series France/tour/detour/deux enfants, in which he asks a little girl about sound and music and a little boy about image in each episode. One key exchange I’ve always treasured is Godard asking, “Isn’t a shop window the same thing as a TV set?” and the little boy calmly replying, “No.” The ironic forms between Godard’s statement about the relationship between the capitalism and mass media facing the confidant disagreement of a little boy.
In another example of this form of irony; when the film returns to the boys’ extended Islamic chants and calisthenics outdoors. Offscreen the narrator, presumably Kiarostami, says, “In spite of all the attention of responsible people to arrange this ceremony properly, it was not performed correctly. So in order to show the proper reverence, we preferred to delete the sound from the filmstrip.” At this point the sound is abruptly turned off as the camera pans across the crowd of boys thumping their chests and declaiming, eventually arriving at the figure of the male teacher leading them in the foreground. Logically, if there was any intention to show actual reverence, the images must have been deleted and the sound that to the audience resembled normal chants, retained. Yet in this ironic display the effect is both analytical and aesthetic, displaying what amounts to a reverence for reality in its objectification of ritual that exists quite independent of any reverence (or subtle irreverence) for Islamic fundamentalist dogma. In the same scene, there’s one child who is performing this ritual without a care or any attempt to fulfil the expectations of the “Responsible people”, with the Mowlaee character standing behind him. This scene is a sign for the beginning of the transfiguration process. The scene cuts to the classroom where Majid’s father is being interrogated. He is told that his son has been interviewed and he’ll see the footage later. This is a re-enactment technique later seen in Close-up. In this recreation the truth has been grasped, a truth that the knowledge at hand has seemed insufficient but looking at the Hegelian theory of knowledge and truth, the essence of absolute truth is but the journey towards it. Majid’s face becomes the building block of all the other faces in Kiarostami’s cinema (and in way the complex interpretation of Bresson’s faces) such as Sabzian in Close-up and Hossein in Beneath the Olive Trees. Majid’s face goes beyond a face, becomes transfigured and turns into the representation of the absolute truth.