The Experience (1973)

The third short film by writer/director Abbas Kiarostami, The Experience is his first meaty production. It builds off his first two shorts The Bread and The Alley and The Breaktime, both films about the problems of children. It’s a film that typifies a lot of his work with The Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where he would go onto make a number of shorts and features about similar problems.

In The Experience, the trouble which faces its young protagonist is the budding ambition and sexuality that begins to pervade his young life. He works in a photography shop and in an early scene modifies the pinup girl display in the shop to closer reflect the looks of a girl he’s become infatuated with. Scorned by the adults for his brash waste of photographic materials, he comes into tension with the adult world.

However, he also finds that he needs to assimilate himself into this world in order to better realize his goal of getting and education while simultaneously getting closer to the girl of his affections. He begins to have his clothes professionally cleaned and even gets a nice suit, one he completes by stuffing the shoes of his employer with a couple of plastic sacks so his feet will fit.

With the garb of a man, he is suddenly no longer the scourge of adults, able to present himself as a viable prospect for education as well as enter places and receive recognition that he wasn’t able to before. He also uses it to strut in front of his girl, although it’s more likely she finds the display hilarious than impressive. Through the protagonist’s eyes, the girl’s giggles are of glee, not ridicule.

The cinematography of Ali Reza Zarrindast (who would go on to shoot The Cyclist and Close-Up) is magnificent. One of the recurring images is one of reflection, often in mirrors positioned in such a way that foreground and background are essential parts of the shot. However, there’s also a fantastic shot of the protagonist looking across a large pool of water, his reflection peering back at him. It’s a moment that one could argue is the internal call to action for the character.

The film is also notable for, contrary to Jean-Luc Nancy’s writing on Kiarostami, having a movie theater scene.  The protagonist sneaks into a movie, one the audience never sees, but one they can hear. He lights a cigarette and puffs smoke into the room. It’s an ethereal, translucent moment, a dreamlike state. If one was to guess, the film would probably be a romance, a romance the protagonist dreams of make a reality.

While a far cry from the self-reflexive, and densely conversational films Kiarostami became an art-house figure for, The Experience does give insights into the work of his early career and displays the seeds of a director interested in film as more than just a medium of expression, but a deep fascination with the machinations of the medium itself.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing