Much like Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, his contemporaries, Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf offers a blending of documentary and fiction, theory and memory with A Moment of Innocence.
In many ways, the movie’s genesis can be traced back to 1974, when Makhmalbaf was part of a student protest against the Shah of Iran. During the unrest, Makhmalbaf attempted to disarm a policeman, stabbed him and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. Years later, in 1994, Makhmalbaf was auditioning actors for a film of his, and who shows up? Mirhadi Tayebi, the very policeman he had injured some 20 years before. Reunited under very different circumstances, they decide to reconstruct that moment from their youth, with each man playing himself. The result is A Moment of Innocence, which is both a dramatization of that event with younger actors and a (staged?) documentary on the process.
Tayebi (or perhaps “Tayebi”) emerges as the film’s tragic figure, especially when we sense that he believes this reconstruction will redirect the entire trajectory of his disappointed life. We can’t rewrite our past, the movie reminds us, even when we have this much “creative control” over it.
For such a meta exercise, A Moment of Innocence displays a surprising amount of sly humor. Makhmalbaf has some fun with the image of a flowerpot and sunlight, while there’s a recurring gag in which the homely Tayebi tries to cast a good-looking kid to play the younger version of him. See what I mean about creative control over our past?