Kiarostami’s TEN and the Politics of the Everyday

by Elizabeth Stoddard

The films of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami are each a separate and distinct work, but they tend to include scenes within a car (Shirin being the exception, as it occurs in a darkened theatre). In his early film Taste of Cherry, a suicidal driver gives rides to men in hopes he’ll find someone to bury him. Car rides feature into the director’s more recent Certified Copy (male and female co-leads driving through Tuscany) and Like Someone in Love, as well. This is enough of a recurrence in his pictures that I’m surprised no one has started a Tumblr about it yet.

With Ten, his docudrama from 2002, Kiarostami bases the whole of a film within a car. In ten separate sequences, an unnamed woman (Mania Akbari) interacts with various passengers as she drives around Tehran. Her child Amin (played by Akbari’s actual son) yells at her, blaming her for divorcing his father. For the first ten minutes, he is the only one we see on camera, berating his mother, although we hear her terse responses to him.

The other passengers we see — or only hear, in one case — include her sister, a poor woman going to prayer, a prostitute, a young woman hoping for marriage, and an unhappy woman after a breakup. Ten is composed of edits of the resulting discussions, appearing more improvised and informal than many modern-day reality shows.

What seems an everyday task — running errands, leaving worship, or picking up a child from a divorced spouse — is revolutionary in this film. The women, elsewhere limited by gender roles and patriarchal strictures, openly talk about their dedication to God, how a boyfriend is dragging his heels about marriage, what drew someone to prostitution, or how to heal after a relationship ends. At one point, the driver asks a crying woman, “What’s preventing you from being yourself?”

In this car, conversation easily flows among the ladies. The most hesitant participant is the barely seen prostitute (played by Roya Akbari) who keeps asking to be dropped off where she can find business.

Kiarostami’s use of such an intimate filming technique gives the viewer the feeling of nosing into private talk. The claustrophobic angles show the limits of the production, but the discussion among characters flows so convincingly that for a short time I wondered if the passengers were even aware of the camera. Ten is a fascinating experiment, providing a sort of platform for rarely heard voices.

Ten is now streaming on Fandor. Kiarostami’s documentary about making the movie, 10 on Ten, is also available through the streaming service.

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