Film: Double Bill

Brian Stirner, Director Of `A Kind Of Hush', Released Next Week, On His Ideal Cinematic Pairing
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The Independent Culture
Bicycle Thieves (Dir Vittorio de Sica, 1948)

Close-Up (Dir Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)

WHEN I go to the cinema, I like to use my heart more than my head, so if a film has complicated plotting and no emotional thread to hang on to, I'm soon up shit creek without a paddle. The films in my double-bill have endings that were a bit of a surprise when I first saw them but because of the truth and emotional intensity with which the stories unfold, I was not lost, just transported.

De Sica's Bicycle Thieves is a film I can watch over and over. It bears all the marks of Italy's "neo-realist" cinema - location shooting, social issues and, perhaps most importantly, the appearance of the ordinary. The deceptive depth of the film's simplicity was an ever-present if unconscious inspiration to me when I was writing and directing A Kind of Hush.

The irony is that - though born in the thick of "neo-realism" - Bicycle Thieves is totally a product of the cinema of illusion. Its apparent simplicity is both sophisticated and artful and its truth lies not so much in the authenticity of the vision of post-war Rome or the accuracy of the analysis of the class struggle but in the story's emotional core.

Through the still, almost impassive, surface we see the delicate and often unexpressed bond between a father and son as they trudge the streets of Rome looking for a stolen bicycle. As the relationship develops and changes we have no choice but to be on their side.

When the father commits the final and shaming act of stealing a bicycle himself, we wish we could stop him - but we can't. He gets caught, he's released and his son takes his hand. This is how the film ends. It's a shock - and achingly human.

Kiarostami's Close-Up, could have been self-conscious, telling as it does the true story of a man who is mistaken for a famous Iranian film director and ends up impersonating him and planning his own film.

It's certainly a stimulating essay on cinema and reality but the depth and detail of the main character and the sorrow he struggles to express combine to create an elegy that is deeply moving. At one point - as he stands trial for his crime - he says: "Art is an extension of what you feel inside." Words, I think, that could well describe the work of de Sica as well as that of Kiarostami.

The film's surprise ending involves the real-life director turning up to confront his impersonator. It's as light and life-affirming a conclusion as Bicycle Thieves is dark and tragic.

From feelings of powerlessness, the protagonists of both these films are constantly seeking a sense of their own self-worth. As the story unfolds and the characters are shamed by the events, we, the audience, are forced to an understanding of their dilemma.

The double-bill embodies poetry, gentleness, wry humour and an emotional grip that never lets go. The films might be "neo-realist" but the phrase is just too plain, too flat for films that both touch and celebrate the humanity of humankind.

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