Ayneh, Jafar Panahi (1997)

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Ayneh, a Jafar Panahi film takes you on a journey with a little young girl, trying to find her way back home. The film starts with the little girl waiting for her mother to pick her up from school and when time passes by and she doesn’t show, she takes it on herself to map her route. The film undergoes a twist when the little girl suddenly throws a tantrum and begins to sulk, screaming that she didn’t want to act anymore, that she didn’t want to be a part of this film, which took the audience by surprise. The entire journey, the entire experience was just an act, and the little girl pretended the entire time. The interesting part begins when the little girl, having quit her film, actually begins to find her way home. She leaves her microphone on and Panahi continues to keep the cameras rolling and follows her as she maneuvers through streets, people and taxis to reach the home in the area that had a fountain. What tends to confuse the audience is the little girl post the tantrum, is it an act? Did she really quit the film? Why did she leave the microphone on? Panahi leaves these questions unanswered but leaves the viewer with the element of wonder having watched a beautifully directed film.

The film, more than its plot was interesting because of the way it was shot. An important factor of the film was the element of time, where time is expressed through a sports game playing in the background in the beginning of the film and the victory of one of the teams at the end that ties the film together. Little hints that Panahi shares is the old man that we see trying to cross the road at the opening of the film moving back and forth depending on the traffic. He finally crosses once the little girl made her way opposite the phone booth, which helps the audience tie the scene together.

The entire film focused on the little girl, one could barely see her surroundings or the context in the film, the only context one got was through the descriptions the little girl made, extremely vague and monotonous. The film was filled with close up shots of the girl and the adults that were even speaking were out of focus. Again the Iranian context was subtly shot through a clear reflection of the city on the glass façade of a telephone booth and the reflection in shops with glass panes.

An interesting thought through the film was how spaces were defined, remembered and recollected. To the little girl, her house was by the street that had a fountain but to the adult that street could be identified through other means, maybe a shop that existed on the road, or an old lamppost. Space is defined individually by how an individual wants to define it, it is interpretative. With the little girl talking about her house by the fountain, Panahi adds a beautiful shot of her running across her fountain minutes before she finally got home.

The way the film was shot, before the ‘fourth wall’ being that of the director was revealed and after where the little girl was being followed without her knowledge added enhanced that conceptual idea of the film. Here, with the audio going in and out, the little girl disappearing and coming back, the camera being extremely shaky and unfocused, the viewer becomes a part of this chase, a part of this journey to find this little girls home. Comparatively, the beginning of the film has perfectly angled, focused shots to show its prior filmed and scripted side.

Ayneh showed us spaces physically with close up long focused shots and mentally through the little girl, her interaction with people, what went on in her mind and how she thought about space. It showed us how space can be perceived and received and interpreted and Panahi directed these physical and mental spaces beautifully, with a complete and successful attempt of immersing the audience into this film, into this camera space, into this journey.

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