A Moment of Innocence: Reconciling the Past
When I walked into class that day I was indifferent to the movie that we would be watching that evening. Five minutes into A Moment of Innocence (1995) by Mohsan Makhmalbaf, I was hooked. By taking a pseudo-documentary style Makhmalbaf lets us see the people as they are transformed into the characters from the director’s past. This style allows us to “grow up” with them and to relate to both sides of the story. By taking a true event and fictionalizing, at least part of it, Makhmalbaf has us trying to figure out what parts have been added to the narrative and which parts truly speak to history. A documentary does not strive to tell a story, it looks upon events unemotionally and tries not to colour our ideas about the event. A Moment of Innocence is not a documentary but uses the truth function common to that genre to give us an understanding of the events from both sides and makes us think about how our actions effect others every day. If A Moment of Innocence had been a wholly fictional film I do not believe that it would have carried the same emotional impact. Different scenes in the film show us how Makhmalbaf is trying to reconcile his past actions with his feeling today. They also show how he is, while not in any way apologizing for his actions, trying to amend some of the damage he may have caused.
There are several scenes in the film that stand out to me as important. The scene that caught me the most off-guard occurred when Makhmalbaf and young Makhmalbaf went to the director’s cousin’s home to try to enlist her daughter to play the roll her mother had played in real life. For just a moment the daughter and young Makhmalbaf step out of themselves and become the characters that they are playing. They make plans to meet the next day for the incident with the policeman, both look nervous, Makhmalbaf returns and they resume their roles as if the exchange had never occurred. This glimpse into what and how the incident was planned gives the audience a look into the type of people that Makhmalbaf and his cousin were as young adults, scared but sure in their purpose. The scene also allows us to step out of the knowledge that this is staged and shows us the characters as people, not actors. It is a sudden and surprising scene that catches the audience off guard, and makes them see the “realness” of the situation. By combining this with the documentary feel of the film Makhmalbaf allows us to suspend our disbelief for a brief instant and plunges us into what his reality was at that time.
The policeman’s reality is vastly different from that of Makhmalbaf‘s. The most conspicuous example of this occurs when the stabbing incident is staged for the initial time. The policeman becomes aware for the first time that the girl he thought he was falling in love with was actually an accomplice of young Makhmalbaf. He immediately puts a stop to the scene and leads his younger self away from the filming. By our empathy towards the policeman who has lived with the memory of a love he though he had lost for his entire life, it is driven home to us how two people who are involved in the same event can perceive it differently. It is a hard truth for the policeman to face. He needs to reconcile this part of his history, which has suddenly changed for him, with his own new feelings of self-doubt. The policeman was so self-assured up until that moment; he had probably played the stabbing over and over in his mind ever since it happened and thought he had a handle on the truth. In a way his innocence was shattered and lost at that moment. To have what you think of as the truth ripped away from you so suddenly is a life changing experience.
The final scene in A Moment of Innocence reflects the life changing aspect of this story on all the persons involved. In a documentary the final scene in A Moment of Innocence would have been the failed attempt of young Makhmalbaf to retrieve the gun from the young policeman and the stabbing, yet in Makhmalbaf‘s version we are left with a question as to what happened. We know that young Makhmalbaf had the knife hidden below the loaf of flat bread, as in real life, but we also know that, in the staged version, the young policeman gave the small white flower to the girl, unlike real life where he never got the opportunity. This scene is Makhmalbaf‘s way of reconciling the two stories that are converging in this single event. Makhmalbaf leaves us with questions; Could a small change, like the flower being given, had made a difference in the outcome in real life? Could the reluctant young Makhmalbaf had changed his mind and found another way? In giving us these questions to grapple with Makhmalbaf makes us question our own past actions and wonder if we have effected others in ways we have not realized.
We can neither repeat our past nor leave it behind us, it is something that we have to live with every day of our lives. A Moment of Innocence is Makhmalbaf‘s way of attempting to reconcile his past actions with the way he feels about them now. Makhmalbaf has given us a film, based upon real events, involving real people, and has fictionalized part of it. Because we know that part of the film is the truth we search for it throughout the entire picture. One thing that I found interesting about this film is that I couldn’t choose sides. Normally when you watch a film you can empathize with one person or another, in this film there was no clear-cut “bad” person. Even knowing that the stabbing was what was going to happen, I couldn’t choose sides. When you see a documentary it only represents one point of view and you are not driven to choose a side, the only way this film is like a documentary is that it is based upon real events that happened in the not so distant past. A Moment of Innocence could have been called “Atoning for the Past” as it causes us to question each action we have taken in our lives and how it has impacted others. A Moment of Innocence is Makhmalbaf‘s way of repenting for the harm he caused to policeman, and to himself for the actions he took that day. This film has shown me the genuine subjectiveness of truth. Without knowing that the film was based upon actual events I do not think that it would have had the same impact.
Films and Cinema