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A Tale of Two ‘Ten/10’s’ (Women as Men’s Salvation)

You miserable, little son of a bitch10 – Julie Andrews, after seeing her boyfriend walking around naked with naked women

I know it’s hard to lose…You lose at times, unfortunatelyTen – Mania Akbari, speaking to her friend about a man rejecting marriage with her


Could there be two more dissimilar films with the same title? Or are they? Blake Edwards’s 1979 Southern California sex romp which made beaded, cornrow hairstyles chic, pretty much completely objectifies women, while Kiarostami’s 2002 film set exclusively in a car examines the challenges of Iranian women and also features a female hairstyle much more subversive in light of that culture. (Just yesterday, filmmaker and Kiarostami collaborator Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and twenty years of silence for making propaganda against the regime.)

In Ten there are ten segments. The main character played by Mania Akbari (a documentary filmmaker herself), is presented driving people around in her car. Her son (her real life son as well), her sister and a friend occur more than once.

Abbas Kiarostami’s film Ten (2002) was an experiment that used digital cameras to virtually eliminate the director. Kiarostami fastened cameras to the dashboard of a car, and then allowed his actors to act. There was no film crew in the car, and no director. There is no camera movement, other than the movement of the car which carries the camera. There is minimal cutting and editing.

And indeed because of the acting, it does seem this is a directorless film. Every character is a non-professional except a prostitute (who is never seen). The situations were all very close to the real life situations of the actors, specifically the mother and son’s dialogues about divorce and remarrying, though at times the son seems to speak a little too well for his age.

In this second to last and then last scene we see the friend’s reappearance, but now there is something different about her.

The camera dissolves and only the face lives in this scene. Whatever the non-actress is doing, I’m pretty sure she is not acting. Her facial moments, her beginnings of emotion and sudden stops–I’ve seen people in real life struggling to get something out like this and her “performance” is not in the realm of Meryl Streep.


About ten years ago when video stores were still popular, I went into Eugene, Oregon’s very eclectic, locally-owned Flicks and Pics’  in the south hills. One of the very friendly workers (the store was also located on Friendly Street), the self-appointed Sheriff (who wore a badge), told me as I rented Blake Edwards’s 10 that I wouldn’t have to pay for the rental. Stunned, I asked why, and he told me that the employees had decided that all films containing Bo Derek and Brooke Shields would be free rentals, given the dubious acting qualities of the stars.


10 is the story of a middle age composer, Dudley Moore, who, though he has a girlfriend (Julie Andrews) chases tail and becomes obsessed with Bo Derek, who he first sees in L.A. at the beginning of the film before following her and her new husband to Mexico where they are honeymooning. Here is an early scene. After first seeing Derek and chasing her, he crashes into a police car. At 2:00 he enters the church to watch them get married. Blake Edwards (director of the Pink Panther films and deceased just last week) was very interested in physical comedy along the lines of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges. Watch the scene in the church. And then watch around 6:00 as the dueling gigolo versus the want-to-be-gigolo each pulls out their telescopes.

In the following clip, more hi-jinks. He has just come from the dentist and with wads of cotton in his mouth is unable to speak right (a condition that sadly plagued Moore in real life and led to his death while ironically being his comedic calling card, see the film Arthur). First a familiar nod to comedians of the past as Moore drips coffee. Then around 3:00, Edwards kicks into gear with the hilarity of the police surrounding Moore as he moans about the show across the way through the telescope. Moore’s grunts and groveling are a wonder here, I can never tire of them. Later in the clip, telescope looks at telescope as his girlfriend discovers him at the gigolo’s house.


Beyond the simple surface stories in these films, there is something retrograde in how both present women to be men’s salvation (my reading of the films)–although through very different means.

Both films contain a strong central female character that rebukes the other characters (men and women) about their desires. In Ten, the woman yells at her son that she had to follow her own happiness and find a man who doesn’t suffocate her like his father does. She also tells her sister (who is breaking up with her boyfriend) not to get wrapped up in men, that one has to love oneself first. There is a hint of duplicity here, however unconscious. Many people are good at telling others how they should live, but the last scene of Ten, the tenth, shows the son being picked up and immediately wanting to be taken to his grandmother’s. There is very little love left for his mother and one cannot assume this rift will get any better anytime soon. Sad ending.

In 10, Julie Andrews castigates Dudley for following his flesh yearnings when he has someone who loves and accepts him standing by his side. (And Dudley is only attracted to the perfect 10 (Bo Derek) until she reveals she is in an open relationship and his romancing of her isn’t as unique and triumphant as he thought.) But in the end he comes back to Julie Andrews and he is accepted. They make love (what Nicole Kidman begs of Tom Cruise at the end of Eyes Wide Shut) and the credits roll. Everyone is happy.

Are they?

It seems that both films respond to the form in which they tell their story by offering realistic endings in the context of the film and in real life. As in 10, people will wait for others while they try and work out their fantasies on others that people know or think they know won’t jeopardize the real relationship. But there is always the chance this will blow up in their face. As in Ten, people will hold things against others for a specific amount of time, maybe infinitely. People will lose and lose often. Why else do we go on? But we do.

Obviously the world of America (privilege and voyeurism) and the world of Iran (political and civil repression) are two very different worlds. (Notice the son in Ten wears a shirt that has the Camel cigarette logo on it.) But love and fantasy are the same, though the telescopes and recording equipment of the 50’s – 70’s have been replaced by the internet.

The twenty that the two ten’s offer is not meager. One can be enlivened by a directorless film and a free rental.

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