I haven’t seen a Mohsen Makhmalbaf movie in a long time. A Moment of Innocence is pretty close to a masterpiece, as is Once Upon a Time Cinema. The President is different from the Makhmalbaf films I know. It’s more on-the-nose and generally less reflective. That works though, given the content.
Mikheil Gomiashvili plays the president of an unnamed country who goes on the run when the military stages a coup.
It’s no surprise that the film was shot in Georgia instead of Makhmalbaf’s native Iran. I doubt it would fly in the latter. The violence is palpable and the social commentary is obvious. The president moves from place to place, sometimes finding a sympathetic ear, but often finding anger, frustration, and violence. It’s poignant that he’s oblivious; he frequently doesn’t know why “his” citizens are brimming over with vitriol. That’s made abundantly clear in the opening frames where he’s composed high in the air, against a vague backdrop. Where is he?
He’s not down on the ground with the people and the framing reflects that idea. The image looks fantastical – almost like a clear green screen. It’s in sharp contrast to some of the handheld (which the above is not), down on the ground, less saturated, gray and brown-heavy color scheme that dominates the second and third acts:
Makhmalbaf takes some great risks. There’s this close-up that lingers for 90 seconds-
It’s a minor character’s reaction to his homecoming. The decision to not cut to his significant other’s reaction – who hasn’t seen him in 5 years – is bold.
I quite liked this sequence, where president and grandson pretend to be scarecrows to avoid capture. As is frequently the case in the film there’s an emphasis on the grandson in CU, and his red shawl pops out from the frame.
The ending WS is clever. It’s visually pretty, but I also like how the former leader of the country is literally forced to be part of the landscape. And how the military – also very much at fault in this film – isn’t so sharp as to see through the ruse.
Some shots, like this one, feel rather Tarkovsky:
There’s a beautiful ambiguity to the end of the film. Without spoiling it, the final two shots (hesitantly bringing an axe down, the grandson dancing) say at least one of two things, alternately pessimistic and optimistic.