The Mirror (1997)

SPOILER ALERT: The main plot twist of the film (which comes about thirty minutes into the film) is discussed at length.

I’ve put myself at a bit of a disadvantage watching this film. While The Mirror is certainly a good film with some interesting ideas, I couldn’t help but constantly think how Close-Up went on to explore the same ideas but with the benefit of having a far more interesting subject and a lot better structure. While Close-Up certainly owes something to The Mirror, I couldn’t stop making the constant comparison which puts The Mirror at a major disadvantage.

After getting done with school, a little girl (Mina Mohammad Khani) discovers her mother isn’t there to pick her up and she try to find her own way home. And that’s the film. Really. Okay, there’s more. After thirty minutes, the film goes meta after the actress Mina breaks character and storms off the bus the crew is shooting the film on and decides to find her way back to her own home.

The crew decides to follow her around, shooting her from a distance while she tries to find her way home. They keep rolling the cameras from inside the bus, weaving through busy traffic to capture fleeting shots of her walking through the city. Fortuitously, she’s kept her microphone on and they can hear her conversations as she tries to find out where she is and where to go.

However, I’m certain that at least some of this must be constructed. The film is edited a number of times, perhaps because they had to swap film, but I imagine that they also cut some of the boring sections out of the film. Also, the audio seems too perfect sometimes, too constructed. There’s a soccer game going on throughout the day that somehow we just happen to hear the results of at the end of the film. It’s too fortuitous to be a coincidence.

It’s funny to see how Mina is much different from the character she plays in the opening thirty minutes. While the little girl in the film is shy, unsure and frightened, Mina is bold, unafraid of just about anything. She runs across the streets and walks up to strangers asking for directions, insisting that she isn’t lost, but just needs to figure out where a certain intersection is. There is a lot of humor in these moments as Mina doesn’t seem quite as helpless as the director Jafar Panahi had her act in the film.

Where the film begins to not work for me is when you realize how banal it is to follow around someone trying to get home. There are a lot of shots that are frequently obscured by passing vehicles or a crowd of pedestrians. Other times nothing of note happens for a couple of minutes. It keeps a spirit of spontaneity, but it makes for a lot of visual white noise.

However, this voyeuristic following of a child brings up questions about shooting kids to begin with. Mina brings up how the character in the film isn’t her at all. It also seems somewhat abusive that for a while everyone on the crew is trying to get Mina to get back into the film. Also, they keep shooting and following Mina after she’s told them to quit shooting her on film. And even if Mina discovered they were still shooting her, what recourse would she have.

I think this demonstrates how helpless people are to the voyeuristic gaze of the camera. It’s a message even more relevant given that places like Facebook have started becoming ways to record and make public the lives of young children by their parents. These kids aren’t even old enough to speak and already their lives are made public, on display for all to see. While Panahi may be a voyeur with an artistic claim, his audience is left with no such claim, only a morbid fascination to intrude in other people’s lives.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing