Archive for the ‘Abbas Kiarostami’ Category


“طعم گيلاس” / “Taste of Cherry,” dir. Abbas Kiarostami

October 10, 2009
Mr. Badi (Homayoun Ershadi)

Homayoun Ershadi (Mr. Badi) in "Taste of Cherry"

When I first saw this, I was bored and completely baffled as to what Kiarostami hoped to accomplish. After watching his other films, his ideas and methods finally took hold.

Whenever a filmmaker makes a choice in storytelling, it usually involves reaching out to the audience and taking control. At worst, it’s manipulative, just pushing the right buttons, but even done with a light hand, it’s still invisibly guiding the audience’s sympathies and emotions.

For Kiarostami, this creates an ethical dilemma, one that informs the conscience of his work as well as his style, and here, he inverts the conventions of filmmaking. There are a few exceptions (such as one late scene that tantalizes us with a potential reversal in the plot), but otherwise, Kiarostami deliberately avoids anything that smacks of manipulation; his choices in composition and editing generally do not nudge the viewer in any clear cut direction.

Active participation is a necessity, but it’s not meant to be alienating or challenging in an elitist way. What’s needed is immersion. There is no plot to unravel (we’re never given a concrete reason as to why Mr. Badii is trying to commit suicide), and this isn’t about sympathizing or grieving over a man’s choice to kill himself. Kiarostami provides only a skeletal framework, and to flesh it out is to figure out what it means for someone to be untouched by life, by surrounding beauty and to feel only a need to die.

With this morbid concept in mind, what otherwise seems mundane or opaque becomes incredibly evocative. It’s often subtle, like the way debris from a labor site suddenly disrupts a motionless shot, trickling down a hillside as Badii watches on. But a few striking instances do call attention to themselves: at the same labor site, Badii’s shadow is seen on a cascade of earth pouring down a grate, and the shape of his figure ripples like it’s in a constant state of disintegration even though it remains intact.

Most people generally avoid the questions at the heart of this picture, and the evasiveness one would expect from any viewer is reflected in the strangers’ unwillingness to assist Badii in his suicide (a fairly minimal task, mostly to confirm his death). One person, a soldier, flees. Another, a religious student, falls back on his faith. A third tries to relate through his own past experience but finds only a superficial resemblance.

When Badii completes his attempt, we’re literally left in the dark regarding his success. That’s when Kiarostami ends the picture with a clear reminder that all of this is fiction. Granted, it did get the film around Iran’s exhibition board, but the ending is far more than a practical necessity. Pulling the film from the brink of manipulation, the final sequence stays true to the film’s original intent, allowing one to walk away with a real lesson in spiritual renewal and not a sense of fabricated despair.

"Taste of Cherry"