Review the film with emphasis on the methods used in capturing the real in Salaam Cinema.

Essay by nicolerr_University, Bachelor's October 2014

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A documentary is defined as a film that offers a factual report on a specific subject. John Grierson, who created the term, documentary, stated that a documentary is a "creative treatment of actuality" (Huffman 2001). However, 'creativity' differs in filmmakers. Writer Richard MacCann argues that only 'real people' should star in documentaries, as an actor cannot duplicate the emotions of real scenarios. On the other hand, filmmaker Robert Flaherty considered that adding fiction to documentaries is acceptable as long as the content is not compromised (Huffman 2001).

This debate blurs the lines of a documentary and a fictional film. A fiction can be considered as the experience of an imagined world but a documentary is a second-hand experience of the world (Kees 2002). Iranian director, Moshen Makhmalbaf mixes fiction and documentary (Traverso and Mhando 2005) in his critically acclaimed film, Salaam Cinema (Moshen Makhmalbaf, 1995). This essay examines the Iranian film with emphasis on the methods used to capture the "Real".

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of cinema, acclaimed director, Moshen Makhmalbaf places an advertisement in the papers calling for an open casting in a film. The audition asks for 100 people but thousands show up. The documentary displays the audition process with different people explaining their reasons to star in the film.

Drawing a line between cinematic and social realms (Traverso and Mhando 2005), Salaam Cinema is a docu-drama that provides an illustration of the Iranian society and the power of cinema in their culture. Some themes in the film include hierarchy, the question of humanity and the perception of using cinema as a shortcut to resolve problems (O'Brien 2012). Makhmalbaf's films are visually symbolic; usually exploring the relationship between the individual and a larger social environment in Iran. It is no different in Salaam Cinema.

While creating Salaam Cinema, Mahkmalbaf was motivated by his desire to engage with the "Real" thus using a number of methods to capture it (Traverso and Mhando 2005). Using vérité footage at the beginning of the film is one method of capturing the "Real". Originally created by Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, Cinema vérité is a style of documentary filmmaking that uses the camera to unveil the truth or hidden reality (cited in Fous) it is set up solely for the film. The opening sequence of Salaam Cinema shows hoards of hopefuls, waiting to be auditioned. It is then used again when Makhmalbaf and his crew throw audition forms in the air, resulting in frenzy, with people, even women, getting injured. Using this style is a form of evidence to gain truth and reality to the audience.

Another method used in capturing the "Real" is the documentary modes used in the film. Identifying the modes of representation is a way to examine a documentary. Modes used in Salaam Cinema are participatory and reflexive modes. Also an example of cinema vérité, the participatory mode welcomes interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, (Woandering Filmmaking 2014) by questioning the subjects and controlling the theme of the film. Interviews and conversations between them are present in in participatory mode (Nichols 2010). Makhmalbaf plays a big role in the film as he is present throughout and controls the flow of it. His probing questions and directions agitate the subjects, causing some to be confused and unhappy. A man, out of anger, even challenges, one of the crew, Zinal Zadeh to cry on demand. These actions are part of Makhmalbaf's plan to reinforce the power of cinema in Iranian culture. The truth or "Real" in this case refers to the truth of the encounter (Burton 2007). In reflexive mode, the audience is made aware of the process of production (Youd 2012), having a first-hand look and the filmmaker's involvement in shaping the scenes (Nichols 2010). Makhmalbaf and his assistants are constantly seen in Salaam Cinema as they are interacting with the subjects. A mirror is used to show the cameras during the audition. There are many cutaways of the camera to remind the audience of the reflexive nature of the film. Many long takes are also present in the film, thus enhancing the feel of the "Real".

Finally, the content and theme of the film itself plays a part in capturing the "Real". Makhmalbaf was very focused in filming the desperate need to become famous through cinematic forms (Traverso and Mhando 2005). The man who pretended to be blind to get a part in the film or the group of men obeying to Makhmalbaf's directions even if they looked foolish, are metaphorical values of actors, blindly submitting to the director's instructions in order to become famous. During the last 30 minutes of the film, the two women were asked if they would rather be an artist or a humane person. This questions whether actors who can easily manipulate their emotions for the camera are still considered humane and if the subjects would go to the extent of being inhumane to get a shot at stardom. After a long discussion, Makhmalbaf closes the film with the words "to be continued" written on the blackboard as food for thought. This irks the audience into putting themselves in the shoes of the subjects as well.

In summary, even though Salaam Cinema does not objectively portray reality because of Makhmalbaf's reflexive and narrative control in the film, his methods of using cinema vértié, participatory and reflexive modes and using a strong and recurring theme of the power of cinema in Iran, captures the "Real" in Salaam Cinema. -Subjectivity is not seen as something shameful; it is the filter through which the "Real" enters discourse as well as a kind of experiential compass directing the work towards its goal (Renov 2000).