With Salaam Cinema – celebrating the centenary of cinema, considering Lumière Brothers’ 1895 screening of Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory – Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf composed a droll, idiosyncratic and cheeky homage to the medium. This fiercely self-reflexive work – centered on a staged audition process – was filled with meta-textual commentary on cinema’s ability to blur realism and fantasy by freely blending the documentary form with performative elements. Hence, ironically, those vying for a place in the hypothetical film by striving to impress its director with their supposed acting chops – incidentally, and unbeknownst to them – end up featuring in the said film by doing just that. It begins with a memorable opening sequence wherein a car – with a cameraperson seated on its bonnet (shot and reverseshot alternately between his POV and front view of him filming) – glides past an unending throng of people, with Shahrdad Rohani’s ecsactic composition “Dance of Spring” playing in the background. As is soon revealed, an ad in a Tehran newspaper calling for an audition has led to five thousand people turning up for it, which nearly causes a stampede. The focus, thereafter, moves indoors where the director tests the prospectants – representing a staggering demographic spread – through a mix of questions, demands and manipulations. Thus, as they laugh, cry, sing, spray bullets and fly upon bomb explosions, we meet a genial father who was Makhmalbaf’s prison cellmate many years back, a young guy who thinks he resembles Paul Newman, a towering man who’s always cast as villain, a girl who hopes to travel to Cannes to meet her lover, a guy who pretends to be blind, and a couple of hugely determined girls who refuse to give in.
Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf