You And Me And The Camera By Horacio Bernades
in 3rd Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival
“Afterwards, how are you going to put all this that you’re filming in order?”, the Iranian shepherd asks his friend, staring straight into the camera. That is exactly what The Friend (Bâ doust/L’ami) is: a dialogue between the shepherd and Sara, just over an hour long. Sara is Sara Rastegar, and The Friend is her debut film, chosen the best documentary at the third version of Mexico’s FICCO. A couple of months ago the film won the audience award at the Festival des Trois Continents in Nantes, France, where it had its baptism by fire. The French-Iranian co-production is a proof that you don’t need any more than a camera, a gaze and no crew to film magnificent documentaries.
What kind of documentaries, we could ask in this case. The Friend is not an ethnographic documentary (although the main character and the landscape could make it seem so) nor a portrait film of those that bear testimony of the work and the days of a regular person. Neither is it a documentary in the first person or a diary, even if the filmmaker’s breaking and friendly voice and her short, out of tune and contagious laughter can be heard throughout the 65 minutes. But her image remains systematically out of field. What Rastegar inaugurates (and possibly ends) with The Friend is the documentary in the first and second person, since the conversations between the young woman and the shepherd are the film’s topic itself.
The spectator shouldn’t be surprised that both the girl and the shepherd speak such fluent Farsi. Though she has lived in France since she was very small, Sara (or Soroo, as the shepherd pronounces it) was born only 22 years ago in Isfahan, Iran. “Why are you so interested in what I do? Aren’t there shepherds in France as well? “, the old man asks (though he is not as old as he seems), and Soroo starts telling him about French shepherds. Even if it is a co-production, The Friend could be considered an Iranian film, since interpersonal communication is one the central topics not only in Kiarostami’s films (in the least recent ones) but also in those of some of his colleagues, such as Jafar Panahi.
The reference to Kiarostami is not fortuitous. The Friend is full of meta-linguistic references, just like his movies are (or were). The filmmaker and her character talk about the film all the time, about its production, its sense and the editing. There is clearly no intellectual pretension in that, but the mere curiosity of a goatherd for whom cinema is not an everyday thing. That is why he is constantly asking her friend about her strange activity, calling her “my sweetie” all the time. The filmmaker is less inquisitive than her host. That is why The Friend might leave those who expect the genre to give them pure and straightforward testimony, asking for more. They might not realize that Rastegar’s film intends to bear testimony not as much on the character’s activity as on the possibilities of dialogue between different people.
“Let me see how I look”, the shepherd asks as he leaves the frame, leaving an empty image. “But if you leave you cannot see yourself”, Sara laughs for the last time with that short, out of tune and catchy laughter that’s all we know of her. Her laughter and her way of looking, of course.