Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian by birth, is one of the most important auteurs in world cinema. Kiarostami was diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer and died recently at the age of 76. His most important achievement and recognition came in the form of the Palm d’Or in 1997 for his film Taste of Cherry.
Kiarostami’s early career began with studying painting in Tehran and then moving on to working for TV. It is from here that he developed himself into one of the most important directors of World Cinema. In Kiarostami’s own words, “At the beginning it was just a job, but it was the making of me as an artist.”
His first feature, The Report (1977), was made while he was still working in Iranian TV. Among his subsequent works as a prominent filmmaker, the Koker trilogy gained him international repute. Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), the first installment of this trilogy won him the Bronze Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. Subsequently he went on to make Life, and Nothing More…, (1992), and Through the Olive Trees (1994) which completes the trilogy. It is with Close-Up (1990) that he started his rise towards being an auteur filmmaker. Taste of Cherry (1997) won him the most prestigious film award in the world and sealed his name in the annals of film history as one of the most important auteurs and the main proponent of the Iranian New Wave Cinema. The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), Certified Copy (2010), Like Someone in Love (2012) are some of his later and more mature works which have also been widely acclaimed among prestigious film festivals.
Kiarostami has also made a number of documentaries, and written and produced for other filmmakers of the Iranian New Wave, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi. He was not only a filmmaker, but a filmmaker who created poetry through cinema. This is evident in the abstraction within his cinema which was full of a meditative calm, sadness, reflection, but also dissent, obliquely stylised confrontation and emotional negotiation – as well as his own elusive kind of playful humour. His films centred on the children’s world was often a method to bypass the strict censorship rules in Iran. Kiarostami’s films have been termed as opaque, and sometimes even baffling and exasperating; but it has always been captivating, and utterly distinctive due to its poetic form and nature.
In his death we celebrate this master filmmaker, poet, painter and an important artist of this era through some of his major films which are a must watch to understand the poetic quality of his cinema.
Must see 5!
After his Koker Trilogy this is the most important film and one of the first films to highlight the various political issues Iran was facing at that time. It was a responsive docu-fiction about a man who had been put on trial for impersonating Kiarostami’s fellow film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It depicts how a person called Hossain Sabzian impersonated Makhmalbaf and intruded into the home of a family and enticed them with the promise of a prominent part in the film. The film re-constructs those events with the actual people involved and then subsequently goes on to show the real trial for the case of impersonation through actual footage shot in the court.
Taste of Cherry (1997)
The crowning jewel of Kiarostami’s filmography is this film about a man driving around looking for someone to help him commit suicide. It is a movie imbued with a distinctive moral beauty. An exhausted man of middle age is driving in a truck around the nomadic labour markets of Tehran seeking someone to help him. He needs someone who can manage a shovel and take orders without asking questions. He wants to commit suicide, by overdosing on pills and then needs a labourer to dig a grave and bury him. Such an idea triggers astonishment and horror, as if he is asking strangers to be an accomplice in a kind of murder and a cover-up. Many of the people this man encounters try to talk him out of it, trying to persuade him with the simple pleasures of this fallen world – like the taste of a cherry.
In Taste of Cherry, we never come to know why this man wants to end his life, neither he nor the movie ever encourage any sympathy or even sadness in the usual way. He does not merely wish for suicide, but utter self-annihilation. He does not want anyone to know that he has killed himself and no longer exists. He wants to simply vanish, and the bittersweet tragicomedy of trying to find someone to bury him, with all its official absurdity makes clear the distress of this man.
This film has some of Kiarostami’s most unique mannerisms: his fascination about extended conversations in cars, conversations which happen in a space which is neither entirely public nor entirely private, thereby revealing more about the speaker than what is apparent.
The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
The Wind Will Carry Us is about a man, an impertinent city engineer, Behzad, who visits a remote community in a rural village with a camera crew, to document the rituals surrounding the imminent death of an old woman, apparently in retreat from family problems of his own. Meanwhile the film traces his efforts to fit in with the local community and how his own attitude and impertinence is changed.
At the beginning of film we see the crew in a car driving through a featureless vast landscape across a long and winding mountain road, with a single tree. They have got lost looking for the village, which they think is supposed to be near a tree. The unique mannerism of car dialogue is also to be found here and his affinity towards filming in a car.
Certified Copy (2010)
Set in Italy Certified Copy is one of his first films to be set out of Iran. Amid the beautiful landscapes of Tuscany the plot is about a man, middle-aged British writer promoting his latest book and a French woman, who meet and then she leads him to the village of Lucignano. There, they begin a strange role-play game, acting out the parts of a bickering married couple where a casual question reveals something deeper.
Starring William Shimell and Juliette Binoche the film dealt again with Kiarostami’s familiar themes of authenticity and relationships. Binoche won the award for the best actress at Cannes for this film that year.
Like Someone in Love (2012)
This is Kiarostami’s last major film and also set outside of Iran. This time the film is set in Japan. The plot of the film is about a beautiful young Japanese escort who has been booked by an elderly academic, who is also a widower, over a period of two days.
It is a captivating movie, balanced and self-possessed, but has a strange unfinished quality about it, as if we the viewers are invited to speculate how such a situation could culminate. This is another variation of Kiarostami’s recurrent theme of authenticity and fiction: merging the real with the imaginative.
Apart from these major films some of his other interesting works are minimalist movies like Ten (2002), and Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003). The former was created by two fixed cameras in a car, showing a woman driving around Tehran and talking to the people to whom she gives lifts in the car. A women driver in an Islamic country like Iran was an anathema, and thus this film made a political statement. The latter film consisted of a series of lengthy shots of Spanish landscape as a dedication and acknowledgement of another great Japanese auteur Yasujirô Ozu.
We would like to thank Abbas Kiarostami for sharing his creative universe and wish him luck for his next big adventure. Happy Sailing Sir!