Avaliha / First Graders (1984, Abbas Kiarostami)

Screened Sunday May 11 2007 at the Museum of Modern Art, NY NY IMDb

Even though FIRST GRADERS is clearly the other Kiarostami film with subject matter closest to HOMEWORK, I was struck at the structural similarities between HOMEWORK and ABC AFRICA. Both start with a reflexive intro that establishes the director’s mission; both contain the director’s visual/verbal presence and occasional direct commentary; both accept and present evidence that might not perfectly illustrate the “inscribed” sociopolitical thesis; and both end with the film’s most aestheticized sequence, shifting the stylistic terms of the piece. By contrast, FIRST GRADERS dips from time to time into a “fictional” shot breakdown instead of a “documentary” shot breakdown; and the fictional elements don’t really shift the terms of the piece - it’s more as if they brush us back a bit, like a pitcher throwing an inside fastball to keep us from getting too comfortable.

- From Dan Sallitt's comments on my Homework entry

I suppose I agree with Dan -- while First Graders depicts the same milieu of Iranian schoolchildren as Homework, the structure of its narrative and sociological inquiry is very different.  At first it feels like the kind of fly-on-the-wall Frederick Wiseman documentary that was critiqued in the Paul Matthews essay I cited in my Homework write-up.  But about a third of the way through Kiarostami makes his artifice more flagrant by staging dramatic sequences where the kids are obviously no longer being caught in an unscripted moment, but are doing things (walking down hallways, interacting with peers) that are obviously staged.  It feels like a warm-up to the blunt epistemological analysis of documentary filmmaking, couched in a much warmer tone that aspires to poetic dreamlike moments towards the end.  I'm not sure if I agree with Dan that the film doesn't reinvent itself as much as Homework does in its final moment -- the shifts in the reality fabric of First Graders happen more gradually and less abruptly.  It's a more free-flowing work, which doesn't give it the same intensity as Homework (and unfortunately this plays against the one prejudice I harbor against Kiarostami, that I'm inclined to see his looser moments as a demonstrable lack of disciplined filmmaking -- it's just that I've seen him when he is focused and to me it's simply much more compelling.  Or maybe I'm just looking for one little thing to hold against an artist for whom otherwise I have the highest esteem imaginable).

yes (#9 for 1983 between Homecoming and Nostalghia)