You can recommend a movie like “Ten” — utterly no relation to Blake Edwards’ “10” — and people may shy off, once they hear it’s about a woman driving around Tehran in busy traffic, talking to her preteen son and a few other people she picks up.
It helps to know it is from Abbas Kiarostami, creator of “Taste of Cherry” (also a great driving film), “Where Is the Friend’s House?” and “Through the Olive Trees.” A real master, and not pompous about it.
At first, we only see (the camera perched on the hood or dashboard) the boy, Amin (Amin Maher). He’s cute, verbal and moodily provoking.
He gives his mother a rough time because she divorced, has remarried a man the kid doesn’t like, and often interrupts the boy.
This is like countless family driving squabbles, and yet entirely specific to these people.
Later, we see the mother (Mania Akbari): pretty, late 30s, anxious about her son, pleased by her new marriage (“He’s a friend, a companion”).
Wearing a rather chic head scarf, she is no Islamic militant, and her worried feminism tosses sparks about women, men and male drivers. The car is, in a way, her most private area of control.
Over a day or two, she also drives her troubled sister, an old woman who seems meant to represent official piety in its dotage; a cynically laughing prostitute (this feels like theme-packing); and a woman with a thin, noble face, who feels that her hopes for marriage are fading.
The boy, though very likable, is already a little king, with the budding presumptions of the ruling sex; he is the only male talker. His mother, trying to assert her authority, senses the losing odds. She is a window into Iranian middle-class womanhood in 2001.
The film has politics and humor and mystery, doubt and surprise — that is, life. Kiarostami scrapes away most of the directing and acting and scripting.
He uses the fixed camera translucently, and it becomes a tool of freedom, a mirror of honesty, in a fine film.
David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.