Director Months: February – Abbas Kiarostami

taste-of-cherrySo, only two months in and I’m already behind on this, I’ve got to stick with it though, my aim is to publish these within the first week of the month, and I must try harder next time. Anyway, a couple of years ago I wrote a piece about what I considered my top ten movie “blind spots” – the most famous movies I had never seen. At the end of the list I wrote down a couple of names of famous directors who I hadn’t seen any films from, one of whom was acclaimed Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami. I had intended seeing all my blind spots to be a challenge for the following year but then unfortunately forgot all about it, though I might resurrect that post next month. I did want to include Kiarostami in my ‘director months’ project though, particularly after his death last year led to a number of articles highlighting his work, reminding me just how respected he was among critics and fellow directors.

I thought the most obvious film to start with for Kiarostami was Taste of Cherry (Header Picture), probably his most famous film which won the prestigious Palme d‘Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. I’ve seen a handful of Iranian films before and know that, even though the country has produce a number of highly acclaimed directors, they are required to work within strict guidelines of approval by the government and face punishment otherwise. From what little I’ve seen, I believe this leads to some of the countries films being more elusive and ambiguous with their messages.

Taste of Cherry is certainly in line from what I’d come to associate with Iranian cinema, it’s a quiet, slow paced minimalist film that lacks any soundtrack. It follows a man named Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) as he drives around the dusty roads around Tehran looking to employ someone for a one off job. We soon learn that the job in question is to bury him; he intends to commit suicide and has a grave prepared already, but he required someone to cover his body after he has died. Despite this potentially unwelcoming premise, coupled with the film’s stripped-down, possibly alienating style, I found Taste of Cherry immediately intriguing. I can understand how one might feel frustration with the fact that the film continues to be elusive with Badii’s motives for wanting to die, but his, mostly unsuccessful conversations with those he meets in his quest were most interesting, as indeed was the general feeling of being immersed in this landscape I knew very little about. I’m not quite at the level of declaring Taste of Cherry to be the masterpiece many consider it after just one viewing, and I didn’t find it’s fourth-wall breaking end sequence to add anything much, but overall I’m very positive on this fascinating piece of world cinema.

certifiedI unfortunately cannot say the same thing about the second Kiarostami film I chose, a more recent work; 2010’s Certified Copy. Unlike the uniquely specific placement of Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy has far more of an international feel; it’s a French-Iranian co-production set in Italy. The film bares a surface similarity to some of Richard Linklater’s work in that t essentially revolves around 2 people, a successful British writer (opera singer William Shimell) and an unnamed French woman (Juliette Binoche), walking around Tuscany and talking with each other, after meeting at a presentation of his latest book. It’s tough to say exactly why, but I found this film very hard to connect with for the most part, the ambiguous nature of the characters and their relationship this time coming across as a negative rather than increasing my interest, a fact not especially helped by them sometimes switching between French and English. In the third act of the film their dialogue reaches some more poignant and insightful exchanges on the nature of relationships but on the whole, I can’t say I was too fond of the film upon first viewing.

For my third choice I wanted another Iran-set film so went with The Wind Will Carry Us, Kiarostami’s 1999 follow-up to Taste of Cherry. In a similar manner to Taste of Cherry, what I found most interesting was the setting and atmosphere of the film; which follows a group of engineers as they travel to a remote village and observe a highly unusual funeral ritual. The style employed between the two films is quite comparable, but The Wind Will Carry Us is more immediately alienating, partly due to the film’s protagonists being unsure of what exactly they are observing in the village. It continues to be an immersive, if still puzzling experience of quiet beauty however, examining a little seen corner of the world.

The film I had most wanted to see for this month was arguably Kiarostami’s most acclaimed work; Close-Up but I was unable to locate a copy, I still with to seek that out, and even though I wasn’t so high on all the films here, and found them trickier to write about, I’m glad to have at least some greater knowledge and appreciation of Kiarostami’s cinema.

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