Rendered in an approximation of real time, THE MIRROR abruptly shifts midway from an involving exercise in slice-of-life neorealism to a mock documentary in the cinema-verite style. Both segments of the film concern a little girl trying to make her way home through the busy streets of
When her mother fails to pick her up after first-grade class lets out, a small girl (Mina Mohammad-Khani) embarks on a journey to find her way home. Despite lots of hustle and bustle to and fro, she makes very little progress and remains lost. Ultimately, the worried girl finds herself on a bus
that she hopes will take her close to her house. Among the passengers are an old woman who complains that her ungrateful children are ashamed of her country ways and won't let her see her grandchild.
"Don't look at the camera, Mina," a voice says. "I'm not acting anymore!" replies the girl, who is not really lost but is playing a part in a movie. After all efforts to change her mind fail, the child walks off the movie to find her own way home. Still miked for sound, she is followed by the
cameras of the film crew, who want to see what they can salvage from the situation.
Mina's homeward odyssey proves to be just as frustratingly willy-nilly as that of her fictional counterpart. At one point she encounters the old woman who was on the bus. The lonely woman reveals that she is not a professional actress but was playing herself. Eventually, the lost child finds her
way to the shop of the man who recruited her for the film. He urges her to return to work, but to no avail. Safe at home at last, Mina is visited by a member of the film crew, who tells her she must finish the movie they are shooting. Again she refuses.
Jafar Panahi's THE MIRROR begins in the mode of his sleeper hit THE WHITE BALLOON (1996), then radically changes stylistic gears about 40 minutes in, when the central figure steps out of character. Panahi said he had been toying with this idea but did not commit to it until the first little girl
he had cast refused to play her role as written and had to be replaced. (She appears only in the finished film's opening shot, a lengthy establishing shot that crosses and recrosses a busy street before finally alighting on the movie's small protagonist.)
THE MIRROR's two distinct segments are shot in radically different styles. Part one, like THE WHITE BALLOON, is a fluid and controlled stretch of film that has been carefully crafted to simulate the spontaneity of everyday life. Part two, though possibly just as precisely planned as the first
part, fakes the appearance of off-the-cuff, on-the-fly filmmaking through jumpy hand-held camerawork that seems to be even farther off course than the little girl it is attempting to follow--for long intervals the girl totally eludes the camera's range and for a time the soundtrack goes dead, as
if the mike is malfunctioning.
At first one is tempted to feel betrayed by this conceit; one wants to know what happens to the fictional girl. What saves THE MIRROR from being nothing more than an extended and somewhat cruel prank on its audience is the "mirroring" of the two stories. Story two essentially continues the
narrative of story one on a different level--the movie is still about a little girl trying to get home. Thus, THE MIRROR has its fun and keeps its promises too.
Although many will wish that the running times of the film's two sections were reversed--much of part two, the longer section, is spent watching cars blur by the clueless cameraman's lens--THE MIRROR is a charming adventure on both its levels. Especially appealing is its involving real-time
structure, unsullied by background music, and also welcome are the insights into contemporary Iranian society glimpsed along the way.
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: NR
- Review: Rendered in an approximation of real time, THE MIRROR abruptly shifts midway from an involving exercise in slice-of-life neorealism to a mock documentary in the cinema-verite style. Both segments of the film concern a little girl trying to make her way hom… (more)