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20th September 2016

Feature: Celebrating the life of Abbas Kiarostami

Looking back over some of Abbas Kiarostami’s work as an Iranian film director

“In the total darkness, poetry is still there, and it is there for you.” – Abbas Kiarostami

To turn a simple expression or act into a majestic form of poetry is something Kiarostami was known for. His ideas of filmmaking not only challenged the conventional form of films but also questioned the political and religious autonomy of state in Iran.

From a kid trying to accumulate enough money by cheating or stealing for a bus ride to watch a football match in The Traveller, or the act of defiance of a little boy to return the notebook of his friend in Where is the Friend’s Home?, all his films challenge the authoritarian state of the contemporary Iran which was trying to stop the production of any kind of art. In these films he challenges them by subtly using children as his characters, and minimalist plots as his backdrop.

In 1997 Kiarostami won the Palme d’Or for his masterful cinema of ‘Koker Trilogy’ Taste of Cherry. Koker Trilogy is a name given by critics and academics and not by Kiarostami himself—he just happened to make the films in the same region. In Taste of Cherry the main protagonist Badii drives around to find a man who can bury him after he takes lots of pills and lies in a grave. No reason was given by Kiarostami as to why he wants to commit suicide, the protagonist just wanted to disappear from the miseries around the world. The film is cleverly based around characters who are sad and have gone through some kind of pain, including one who argues with his girlfriend to an Afghani soldier, discussing the problems Afghans have faced living on the border of Iran. The film also has been seen as a challenge to various religious beliefs where suicide is considered a sin and an act of cowardice. In the last shot of the film the fourth wall is broken when a camcorder recording is shown, which consists of the production crew filming Taste of Cherry.

Apart from breaking the fourth wall in Taste of Cherry, Kiarostami also challenged the conventional form of fiction and documentary cinema in his quasi-documentary film Close Up. A forger tries to impersonate Mohsen Makhmalbaf and gets arrested, which gave Kiarostami a chance to closely follow the trial and to re-enact the events which occurred before with the help of the family who were being forged. The juxtaposition of these two different forms of film made Close Up an entry into a docu-fiction world which examined the psychology of the accomplice and the people being forged.

I couldn’t finish talking about Kiarostami if I didn’t include the magnificently beautiful and poetic film The Wind Will Carry Us. It attempts to talk about an eccentric filmmaker who wants to film the death rights of an old woman in a village, and also try to fit himself into the village community. How can one person pray for someone else to die so that they can get something out of their death?

“They say that the other world is more beautiful. But who has come back from there to tell us if it is beautiful or not?” is a stunning and poignant line from The Wind Will Carry Us.

Kiarostami died on the 4th of July 2016, and I hope that he finds the aforementioned other world. And when I go to that world, he can tell me himself how beautiful it is.

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