There is no definitive definition for the word "art," nor is there one for "cinema," but if you really love cinema you most likely want a work to be not only well done but surprising, entertaining, thought provoking and maybe different. MOMENT OF INNOCENCE is such a film.Iran is best known to most Americans as a small Middle Eastern country that was a pain in our side a generation ago, but now they produce some of the world's best cinema. What sets Iranian cinema apart in the world right now is the way their films engagingly mix realism with fiction and the personal with the political in seamless, informative and entertaining ways. Because of this, their films are difficult to categorize and their distribution is always minimal and a couple years behind. This film for instance was made in 1996 and is only now getting a release in America.
The only way to describe this truly unique film is as being part documentary, part fictionalized behind-the-scenes drama with multiple points of reality all wrapped into a strong social message.
What's so intriguing about the film's premise is that the director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (the most famous in Iran today), has recreated an incident from his radical youth during the Iranian Revolution in the 70's when he stabbed a policeman and in turn was shot and sent to prison.
But rather than making a conventional film about what happened he decided to make a documentary style film about the casting, rehearsing and recreation of the planning and stabbing of the policeman. What makes the premise so bold though is that Makhmalbaf cast the ACTUAL policeman (Mirhadi Tayebi) he did stab to play himself and help cast and reconstruct the event.
The set up of the film we see is that Makhmalbaf will cast and direct a teenage boy to play him (Ali Bakhshi) and a teenage girl (Maryam Mohamadamini) -- who was used as a decoy to help distract the cop -- to play his cousin while the former policeman will cast and direct a teenage boy (Ammar Tafti) to play him as the policeman. Independently they will coach each of the actors to recreate the scene that changed both of their lives forever. It's a remarkable premise that Makhmalbaf hopes will bring out some kind of truth and meaning to everyone involved in the recreation.
Makhmalbaf keeps the film pitched in between fiction and reality by letting us see a reenactment of the whole casting and filming process too. And because of this you're never really sure if what you're seeing is real or if the people involved are acting, playing themselves or a bit of both.
MOMENT OF INNOCENCE ends up examining the exact moment of the stabbing and putting it into a totally different light that is part intellectual and part personal. What becomes apparent, as the film winds to its conclusion, is that not only have times changed in the 20 years since the Revolution but the two boys cast to recreate the event have a tough time fully grasping the weight of the situation because they have no cultural or historical understanding of the revolutionary period.
MOMENT OF INNOCENCE ends on a startlingly complex and revelatory note and although it takes a while to sort out its meaning one thing is clear: different generations have different ideas about social justice and how to handle a serious situation.Like many of the best films that come to America from Iran, this film has a simple premise that becomes more elaborate with meaning as it continues on and which finally reverberates with an effective humanistic significance. In a film world that has all too quickly become a gluttonous Hollywood meat factory this is a welcome film indeed.-- Matt Langdon