Ayneh / The Mirror (1997)

Little girl: "I don't want to be in the film anymore. They tell me to cry all the time. If my friends see this film, they'll think I'm a nagger!"
                                           ***Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers***

By Jafar Panahi
With Mina Mohammad Khani

The Mirror is another movie by Jafar Panahi that I decided to watch.

The film follows a young girl, in first grade. The school finished for the day, all the girls leave. But she remains waiting though her mother is not coming to pick her up. The girl doesn't feel handicapped by her arm in a plaster and she accepts a ride on a scooter by a relative of a teacher to drop her off at the bus stop. Things don't go as easy as planned when she thinks that she recognized the bus she takes and jumps in it. Braving through the traffic she once again gets off the bus in a hurry after she thinks she sees her mother. Her journey takes a surprising turn when the young girl simply stops acting and decides to go home, she is not in character anymore but her troubles are still the same as she has to reach home.

The beginning of the movie really doesn't surprise people who have seen The White Balloon (1995), a young girl has issues with what seem to be the simplest task to any adult but to a child it can become as complex as a jigsaw puzzle. The shots are mostly genuine and we are really immersed in the dangers of the traffic, as it seems to be quite a dangerous task to simply cross roads in Tehran at this time of day. Even the actress will look familiar as she is the younger sister of the one in The White Balloon.

Where the movie shocks and differs from what we are used to is when the fourth wall shatters unexpectedly half way through the film. The young girl stops speaking for a short moment and we hear the director's voice giving her the instruction to not look at the camera. This is very uncommon and at first we think this just might be a blooper, but this is what the "film" becomes then.

It really puzzled me at first but I think it is such a powerful method. Whether this was really a caprice of the young actress or actually scripted, I wouldn't know, but if it was scripted it was a genius idea. If it wasn't it is not only great circumstances but great salvage of the movie. I don't really think it matters whether it was scripted or not and that's not what I would judge the movie on. Whether it's Mina or the Little Girl, her path to find home is a trip in itself, the movie exploring once again the generosity of strangers while some other bypassers do not feel like helping her at all.

The downfall of the movie-became-reality is the fact that the shots are not that clear anymore, keep in mind that we are in a bus following a little girl running or taking rides through a town at rush hour. Therefore we often lose track of her, we only see car paint for minutes at times, fortunately keeping in touch with Mina through her microphone, which also encounters issues. The movie has no great quotes, no great twists or a beautiful touching ending. It is simply a journey where the reality mirrored the fiction. I would actually think it to be better if we never knew whether it was all intended from the start as I like the mystery. I like the fourth wall going down in this unexpected manner.

I liked: The sweet, yet petulant little girl. Blurs the lines of fiction. Endearing.

I disliked: Suffers from it's reality-like filming. Most dialogues heard through eavesdropping with no internal link.

I was greatly surprised by its twist, the immersion was total.


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