Blow Out begins with a broadly visual joke, nearly four minutes long, about filmmaking. It ends with a second joke on the same subject, this one more complex, pointed, and black as tar. Over the course of the narrative, the material has turned rancid, so discoloured and malodorous that it’s hardly funny. That’s because, between the two grand gestures that bookend the film, writer-director Brian De Palma has traced a hero’s journey from idealism and optimism to disillusionment and despair. If cynicism were a superhero franchise, Blow Out would be its origin story.
Certified Copy, which opens on a lecture consigning the concept of originality in art to the Academy of the Overrated, is an awesomely playful intellectual romance (or is it a farce?) from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. When I say playful, I mean confounding in the manner of Last Year at Marienbad, which basically dared viewers to say which competing, contradictory story threads represented real events in the film’s world. I mean bewildering in the style of Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which had two different actresses playing a single character. And when I say that, what I really mean is that it’s a bracingly reflexive exercise that flouts basic rules of narrative cinema and manages to come out ahead of the game.
Filmmaking itself is a bit of a game. Directors, actors, screenwriters, and editors play it with their audiences all the time. You use diversionary tactics, you pluck at heartstrings, you appeal to the emotion, the intellect, and the libido of your audience. When the movie is complete, the studio marketing department plays the game, as well. The object of the game is to get butts in theater seats. On a slightly more high-flown level, the object is to engage, stimulate, and please your audience to the extent that they feel gratified by the experience — and tell their friends about the little game you’re playing so that they can buy tickets, too. And the filmmakers find out whether they’ve won when the box office receipts start coming in.