Rumi’s mirror is here the camera’s lens, at the service of a very fertile joke. The policeman (Mirhadi Tayebi), a gentle giant, comes to see Mohsen Makhmalbaf about a cinematic re-creation of their twenty-year-old encounter -- the knifing of the officer by the filmmaker, then a teenage radical in the Shah’s reign, is the linchpin. ("The subject has been chosen," reads the clapboard intertitle.) Tayebi picks a hunky swain to portray his young self, but is saddled with a small-town squirt (Ammar Tafti) instead; Makhmalbaf, meanwhile, casts as himself a soulful lad (Ali Bakhsi) who shares his adolescent idealism, if not his methods. The policeman teaches the callow thespian how to salute and stand guard, and confides in him that the real tragedy of the stabbing was how it interrupted his shy courtship of a pretty girl, who was actually in cahoots with the assailant. To add more rope to the meta-tangle, she's played by Bakhsi’s cousin-girlfriend (Maryam Mohamadamini); the two yearn to nurture the world’s population and cover the African soil with flowers. Cinema can restage the past, but can it absolve it? "I don’t know if you’re an actor, or a dreamer," somebody says. In his most complex yet airiest film, Makhmalbaf’s fatalistic fervor is tempered with Kiarostamian delicacy and the labyrinthine yoke becomes light as cotton. Tayebi and Tafti beautifully update Laurel and Hardy on a snowy Tehran street, the girl unsuccessfully asks the time at a repair-shop for clocks (Keaton’s Seven Chances). The auteur who reminds the performers not to stare at the camera during rehearsal, the actor who storms off the set, the aged tailor who quotes John Wayne in The Conqueror -- the paraphernalia of behind-the-scenes comedy gives way to personal revolution and intergenerational emancipation. The moment of innocence (ideology, memory, romance) meets competing realities; the flower lies next to a pistol and the bread sandwiches a switchblade, yet past aggression is transfigured by humanism in a magnificent freeze-frame. With Moharram Zaynalzadeh.
--- Fernando F. Croce