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Ten is Iranian filmmaker’s Abbas Kiarostami’s most rigorously conceptual film yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s his most austere. Viewers who were bored or bewildered by Taste of Cherry or The Wind Will Carry Us will probably find the director’s latest movie more accessible. This time the principal subject is not mysterious, although for Iran it is audacious: the status of women.

Other recent Iranian films, notably Jafar Panahi’s The Circle and Marziyeh Meshkini’s The Day I Became a Woman, have addressed this topic directly. But Kiarostami has done so only glancingly, such as when the protagonist of The Wind Will Carry Us recited a poem by Iranian feminist Forough Farrokhzad. One reason Iran’s filmmakers are reluctant to tell stories about women is that the country’s censors forbid depicting female adults without the cloaks and head scarves they’re required to wear in public. Panahi’s work-around was to make a film in which women are never seen at home. Now Kiarostami has done much the same thing, but he’s set Ten in a public place that’s also somewhat private: the car driven by an unnamed, upscale woman (Mania Akbari). Automobiles played a prominent role in Kiarostami’s two previous fiction (or semifiction) films, but this is the first of his movies in which the camera—except for one brief shot—doesn’t leave the dashboard at all.

As she tools around Tehran, the motorist—pretty and fashionable in white head scarf, lipstick, and sometimes sunglasses—has a series of 10 conversations that are mostly about women’s roles and rights. Her most frequent passenger is her son Amin (Amin Maher), a querulous pre-pubescent. Amin has a grievance that’s not unknown in the West: He’s furious that his mother divorced his father and remarried. Amin seems merely a petulant child, yet he has Iran’s mullahs on his side: When he attacks his mother for being selfish, garrulous, and insufficiently domestic, he’s only a few years away from becoming a man who can enforce such judgments as a matter of law.

The four other riders are all women: a newfound friend who is praying that she will soon marry, an older woman whose prayers are less goal-oriented, the central character’s married sister, and a hooker who hops into the car assuming it’s driven by a man. The motorist doesn’t see marriage as the culmination of a woman’s life, isn’t especially religious, and can’t imagine sex without love. Yet she finds that each of these women has an argument she can’t entirely dismiss.

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Ever since 1990’s Close-Up, Kiarostami has taken a Brechtian approach to filmmaking, using documentary techniques and chance occurrences to subvert his control over the process. Shot with a digital-video camera fixed on either driver or passenger, Ten was improvised from the director’s scenarios but without his supervision. (And perhaps without anyone else’s—no crew members are credited.) Kiarostami calls this “the disappearance of direction. In this form of cinema, the director is more like a football coach. He has to do most of his work before the take starts.”

But what about after the take ends? Kiarostami may not have exactly directed Ten, but he did edit it. Although there are long periods without cuts, the 10 scenes are not continuous takes, and occasionally the camera switches from the motorist to the rider (or vice versa) within an episode. The film’s style has been compared to Warhol’s, but it’s really more like Christopher Guest’s. Whereas Warhol’s most severe films are unblinking and essentially unedited, both Ten and

A Mighty Wind were cut together from many hours of improvised footage. In Kiarostami’s case, the result is not a conventional drama, but neither is it a forbidding avant-garde exercise. Ten may have begun as a formal experiment, but in the context of Iranian society, what it has to say is more provocative than how it says it.

Another bold young woman, the heroine of The Girl From Paris dares leave the capital—as well as her vaguely unsatisfying fiancé—for a farm high in the Rhone Alps. Few countries esteem agriculture as much as France, but that doesn’t mean that many young French urbanites are abandoning tech jobs—Sandrine (Mathilde Seigner) was an Internet instructor—for serious farming. It’s a tough life, although director Christian Carion’s first feature is only occasionally a tough movie.

The film opens in a sort of swoon, with the camera tracking through mountains and valleys accompanied by gushy music. (The score is a recurring problem, but the movie is generally sober.) Over her mother’s objections, Sandrine enrolls in an agricultural course; upon completing it, she buys the former dairy farm of widowed, cranky, almost-friendless Adrien (Michel Serrault), who is ready to retire but not to leave. He stays in the farmhouse while Sandrine restores the erstwhile cow barn as both her home and a small bed-and-breakfast she calls Balcony in the Sky. She tends a herd of goats and sells goat cheese on her Web site. In spring and summer, schoolchildren and upscale weekenders keep Sandrine company. In winter, however, there’s only the chilly Adrien.

Serrault has played something like this role before, in Claude Sautet’s 1995 Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud. Once again, he’s the older man who can afford to be generous yet is sometimes compelled to be petty and rude. (Appropriately, Seigner is earthier than Serrault’s Nelly co-star, Emmanuelle Béart.) There’s less of an erotic charge to Carion’s film than to Sautet’s, but Adrien’s feelings for Sandrine are not entirely paternal. When snow traps them together, the two become closer—although Sandrine doesn’t realize the extent of Adrien’s manipulations. And any time Adrien is disappointed in Sandrine, he can’t resist bombarding her with all his doubts about Parisians, feminists, and women in general.

Despite such blowups, the film’s overall tone is sweet, gently comic, and ultimately hopeful. To convey the harshness of farm life, however, Carion includes several brief sequences of animals being slaughtered and one of an unfortunate birth. These moments are certainly not unwarranted, but they’re jarring nonetheless. Although The Girl From Paris could have been much more severe, it still may be a little rough for the bed-and-breakfast crowd. CP