Ten (2002)

It runs a little out of steam by the end, but Kiarostami’s breakthrough experiment with the digital video camera is a revelation as the private, unfiltered conversations in a car become wrestling bouts against patriarchy, served with ten ‘dings’ of the bell. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,219

Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
2002 | Iran | Drama | 93 mins | 1.66:1 | Persian
PG13 (passed clean) for some sexual references

Cast: Mania Akbari, Amin Maher
Plot: One woman drives through the streets of Tehran over several days. Her journey is comprised of ten conversations with various passengers, including her sister, a hitchhiking prostitute, and a jilted bride. 
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Women in Society
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Moving away from the lyrical, picturesque style of his ‘90s works such as Taste of Cherry (1997) and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), Abbas Kiarostami welcomed the new millennium by employing the very tool that would mark the beginning of the 2000s decade—the portable digital video camera. 

Always trying to push the possibilities for cinema, Kiarostami experiments with the tool and medium in Ten, a deceptively straightforward film (and a precursor to the likes of 2015’s Taxi Tehran by Jafar Panahi) featuring ten ‘episodes’, shot with the camera mounted on the dashboard of a car. 

Privileging static shots with no pans or zooms, Kiarostami puts driver and passenger under the spotlight, sometimes employing long takes, which is most pronounced in the first episode.

“A woman has to die so as to be able to live?”

The interior is claustrophobic, but it is also a private one as Ten uses the car as a safe space where an assortment of women—and a charming little boy (real-life son of the driver, who’s the only professional actress in the film)—discuss issues ranging from gender equality, prostitution, sexuality, marriage, and more. 

Each episode is of varying length, though it gets shorter as the film continues.  One might find that the film runs a little out of steam by the end, as if there’s nothing substantial left to shoot. 

That aside, the honest, unfiltered conversations about the female experience in Iran are what make Ten a revelatory watch.  In fact, the start of each new episode is marked by a title card that reads ‘10’, ‘9’, ‘8’, etc, followed by a sharp ‘ding’ of the bell, as if we are watching round after round of wrestling bouts against patriarchy. 

One thing’s for sure, while Iranian women continue to tackle challenges in their daily lives, Kiarostami wants to also celebrate their resilience and bravery, no better encapsulated by the sight of a recurring character who shaves her head completely bald.

Grade: A-




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