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The film Salaam Cinema, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, takes place in Iran. Makhmalbaf puts up advertisements regarding an audition for 100 extras in an upcoming film (Tabibnia, 1995). However, thousands showed up for the audition (Tabibnia, 1995). Makhmalbaf decides to turn the audition into a film itself (Tabibnia, 1995). As such, Salaam Cinema is a documentary film that presents the audition of Iranians who have dreams of becoming actors and actresses. The audition candidates are the subjects as well as the actors of the film.
One way to examine a documentary is by excessing its “modes” (Nichols (as cited in Interactive Documentary, 2009)). Modes of representation are the fundamental means to manage and classify texts according to the repetitive characteristics or conventions that appear (Nichols, 1942). In Salaam Cinema, more than one mode of representation can be observed from the film. They are the observational, interactive and performative mode. This review will now look at the conventions that each mode follows. It will then examine how and whether Makhmalbaf has employed them in Salaam Cinema.
Firstly, Salaam Cinema falls under the observational mode of representation. This mode aims to bring across a sense of unrestricted and non-interfered access into the world (Nichols, 1942). It allows viewers to play the role of an observer, watching silently as characters and events unfold. To give off this sense of observation, there are a number of conventions that filmmakers adhere to. Primarily, there is no direct address between the subject and the audience (Nichols, 1942). This can be said of Salaam Cinema as there is completely no direct engagement of the subjects with audiences as they do not speak to the camera. Instead, subjects interact with one another. This gives audiences the sense that they are overhearing a speech or conversation while observing the happenings. Also, the sense of observation is derived from the director’s capability to record happenings that illustrates real time (Nichols, 1942). This means that even when nothing of narrative significance is happening, they are being recorded and presented. In Salaam Cinema, moments of silence and ordinary happenings of an audition were captured and shown. These give viewers a sense of time which is consistent with the moment of filming. Furthermore, the omission of voice overs or music can be observed throughout the film. As such, the images and sound presented in Salaam Cinema are what was documented at that exact moment. These are some of the conventions of the observational mode that Makhmalbaf has adhered to. It has given viewers a sense that they are observing the audition at the point when filming is taking place.
However, the convention that Makhmalbaf has deviated from is the non-interference of the filmmaker (Nichols, 1942). In the observational mode, filmmakers usually remains hidden behind cameras, with no influence on the happenings before cameras. However, in Salaam Cinema, Makhmalbaf is often present on screen. He appears as a subject and actively interacts with others. It can be seen that Makhmalbaf has slightly deviated from the observational mode conventions.
However, filmmaker’s presence on scene is a convention employed by filmmakers under the interactive mode of representation. Hence, the second mode of representation that can be observed from Salaam Cinema is the interactive mode. The interactive mode stresses the direct contact between the filmmaker and the subjects (Nichols, 1942). Also, another convention is that the filmmaker’s voice can often be heard not as a voice-over but at the point when he or she is having direct contact with the subjects (Nichols, 1942). Almost throughout Salaam Cinema, Makhmalbaf can be seen and heard on set. His encounter and conversations with the subjects are all recorded. Even his little “private” conversation with the young lady, who intends to get a visa to be with her fiance, is documented. This impromptu “private” conversation can be said to be another convention of interactive films where interaction between the director and subject do not have a prior agreed outcome (Nichols, 1942). There are no rehearsal for these and the filmmaker makes decision on the spot on what to do or say. Also, in films under the interactive mode, the filmmaker often has a direct influence on the events happening before the camera (Nichols, 1942). As in Salaam Cinema, Makhmalbaf often provokes his subject, prompting them to react in a certain way. For instance, he continuously questions the two young girl’s passion for the arts, evoking strong emotions and reactions from them. These are the various conventions of the interactive mode of representation and it can be said that Makhamalbaf has adhere to them in Salaam Cinema.
The last mode of representation that can be observed from Salaam Cinema is the performative mode. The performative mode of representation recognises the emotional and subjective aspects of a documentary (Girish, 2006). A convention of the performative mode is that filmmakers build the narrative and create subjective truths that are deemed essential to them (Ophelia, 2010). Thus, it can be said that by selecting who or what to present in the film, the filmmaker is attempting to create these subjective truths. In Salaam Cinema, showing the scene where thousands rush to get the application forms for the audition, can be seen as an attempt by Makhmalbaf to show viewers Iranians’ passion for the cinema. Also, out of the thousands of candidates who showed up for the audition, Makhamalbaf chose to present the lady who wish to get a visa and the two young ladies who are passionate about the arts. It can be his attempt to tell the stories of marginalised women in Iran society. These scenes, selected by Makhmalbaf, gives viewers an insight to how passionate Iranians are about the cinema. From there, audiences form their own subjective thoughts. Hence, it can be said that Makhmalbaf has employed these conventions to Salaam Cinema.
In conclusion, Salaam Cinema consists of three different modes of representation. They are the observational, interactive and performative modes. As each mode has different conventions, some may overlap or contradict with one another. Despite that, Makhmalbaf has employed most conventions in his film. As a result, viewers are able to take on the role of an observer, watching how Makhmalbaf engage with the subjects, provoking them to act in a certain way. Most importantly, he gives viewers an insight into a society and culture that many know little about.
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