- Auto-Motivations:Digital Cinema and Kiarostami's Relational Aesthetics
Film theory has never strayed far from the question of movement. What we mean by cinematic movement, of course, can take various forms: an image produced by a series of still frames in motion, an indexical recording of moving objects, or even the manner by which a camera passes through space in the course of a sequence shot. With the emergence of digital cinema, however, the established terminology of cinematic movement appears to be at an impasse. In The Virtual Life of Film, for instance, D. N. Rodowick explores the philosophical challenge raised for film studies by the still ongoing conversion from analog to digital. Rodowick finds that even if "filmmakers" continue to employ classical modes of cinematic storytelling, the digital means and mode of capture, storage, and projection fundamentally alter what we mean by image and the movement that the image is believed to document. Compared to film stock's physical and therefore constantly deteriorating existence, the electronic image exists "in a constant state of reconstruction through a process of scanning" and is accordingly "never wholly present in either space or time" (Rodowick 137). This article takes seriously the theoretical significance of such a radical change to the cinematic medium and attempts to follow the implications of Rodowick's conclusion that, with visual representation now constituted by abstract digital code, "cinema has become more like language than image" (166).
To this end, Abbas Kiarostami's body of work is uniquely relevant. Kiarostami's contemplative style of filmmaking consistently interrogates the epistemological status of visual representation at the level of medium and movement. His cinematic vision often takes the form of a passive glance rather than an intentional gaze, with as much attention paid to the random paths of objects in motion-the aluminum can rolling down the street in Close-Up (1990), the tumbling apple in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)-as to his characters and their spiritual journeys. The camera itself, frequently placed on the front seat or dashboard of a vehicle (Taste of Cherry in 1997 and 10 in 2002, among others), engages in an almost perpetual display of movement. Here, the space between takes precedence over both origin and destination. The meaning behind Kiarostami's ongoing fascination with movement is complicated further by the director's foray into digital cinema, where lightweight cameras enhance the freedom of mobility.
I explore in this article, then, the impact of digital technology on directorial style, evidenced in unique fashion by Kiarostami's forays into digital cinema, which extend in new ways his long-held interest in the intersection between representation, mediation, and movement. Beginning with several examples from the director's predigital films, I examine the tendency of film scholars to correlate Kiarostami's self-conscious cinema with reflexive detachment. These critics rightly identify Kiarostami's tendency, across a range of films, to draw viewers' attention to the mechanical means of recording and to the codes of narrative cinema, both of which separate the audience from the historical reality of the profilmic events. However, these so-called instances of detachment and objectivity, as they are often termed, reveal the tendency of film theorists to divorce form from content and say little about Kiarostami's actual aesthetic intentions, particularly his interest in showing how the camera, director, and audience participate equally in the production of meaning. Seeking a more philosophically appropriate approach to Kiarostami's ephemeral style, I discuss Rodowick's recent ontology of new media, which treats digital technology as an ephemeral medium that, as abstract code, implicitly resists the kind of medium-specific assumptions of film theory and thus serves as a ready ally for Kiarostami's attempts to transcend the strict binaries of subject and [End Page 26] object. Finally, I conclude with brief discussions of ABC Africa (2001) and 10, two instances of digital cinema that demonstrate the practical benefits of a medium (digital video) that allows for a manner of cinematic style that actually eschews style itself.
At the conclusion of Kiarostami's Close-Up, Sabzian finally meets the famous Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf, whom he had impersonated in an attempt...