‘Abbas Kiarostami is the most influential and controversial post-revolutionary Iranian filmmaker and one of the most highly celebrated directors in the international film community of the last decade. During the period of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, at a time when Iranians had such a negative image in the West, his cinema introduced a humane and artistic face.
‘Kiarostami is a graduate of Tehran University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in Painting. He was first involved in painting, graphics and book illustration and then began his film career by making credit-titles and commercials.
‘He founded the film department of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanun) where a number of the highest quality Iranian films were produced. He ran the department for five years and at the same time directed his first film, Bread and Alley, in 1970. Making educational films for children at Kanun, a non-commercial organization, helped him form his basic approach to cinema.
‘Although Kiarostami made several award-winning films early in his career, it was after the revolution that he earned a highly esteemed reputation on the stage of world cinema. 20 years after his ground-breaking debut feature, Report (1977), he was awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes International Film Festival for his film Taste of Cherry in 1997.
‘His masterpiece Close-Up (1990) and, later, the poetic Life and Nothing More… (1992) led to Kiarostami’s discovery in the West, and only then it was mainly by the French. He won the Un Certain Regard award for the latter at Cannes.
‘Kiarostami belongs to a generation of filmmakers who created the so called “New Wave”, a movement in Iranian cinema that started in the ‘60s, before the revolution of 1979 and flourished in the ‘70s. Directors like Farrokhzad, Saless, Bayzai, and Kimiavi were the pioneers of this movement. They made innovative art films which had highly political and philosophical tones and poetic language. Some, like Saless (who is compared to Bresson), introduced a realist (minimal plot, non-dramatic) style, while others, like Kimiavi (known as the Iranian Godard, mixing fantasy and reality), employed a metaphoric form.
‘What distinguishes Kiarostami’s style is his unique but unpretentious poetic and philosophical vision. Not only does he break away from conventional narrative and documentary filmmaking, he also challenges the audience’s role. He plays with their expectations and provokes their creative imagination. His films invite the viewer to reflect, confront stereotypes, and actively question their assumptions. In Taste of Cherry, the reason for Mr. Badii’s suicide is not given to the viewer. Consequently, the audience has to imagine that reason. In Kiarostami’s words, the untold or unexplained parts of his films are created in the minds of his audience. What is presented as obscure or hidden becomes clear and apparent through the audience’s imagination (for example, characters’ motivations and inner worlds). In this way, the audience member becomes responsible for the clarity that she/he expects from the film.
‘In Taste of Cherry, the shift from narrative to documentary not only adds another layer to the film but separates and distances the audience and therefore creates a space for his/her presence in the film. For example, in the final sequence, where the hero lies in his grave, a long fade shifts the film from the narrative section to a behind-the-scenes documentary (shot on video) where we see Kiarostami and his crew. The long fade becomes a trigger for viewers to start feeling their own presence, as well as a mirror to see themselves in. It also motivates them to think about the ways they can understand the shift from the narrative to the documentary, as well as the change in formats from film to video.
‘Kiarostami, in his movement towards a plotless cinema and a minimal and elliptic compressed narrative, has also used the dark screen in a number of his films, serving similar goals in terms of the audience’s involvement. The dark scene in the cellar where the young village girl is milking the cow while the hero is citing Forough’s poetry to her in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), and the seven minute black scene in A.B.C. Africa (2001) where we hear Kiarostami talk, beautifully challenge the audience’s expectations as well as celebrating the creative use of sound. This striking moment in ABC Africa occurs when Kiarostami stops talking as he enters his room in complete darkness. We hear him drawing the window’s curtain but we don’t see anything for awhile. Suddenly a lightning bolt reveals the view of trees for a second. The image has become magical because it is delayed and anticipated for a long time.
‘Another way that Kiarostami invites the creative participation of his audience can be seen in his film Close-Up, where he interrupts and undermines the expected dramatic flow of the story-line with minor characters whose lives are not considered dramatic or important. He also mixes fact and fiction in such a way that it is impossible to separate the two. The non-chronological order of the scenes in the film which offer different points-of-view urge the audience to make sense of the story (putting it in their order), as well as asking them to judge the characters on their own terms.
‘Close-Up not only refers to the role of cinema in Iran as a means of power, popularity, and social mobility, similar to the role of basketball for black youth in America, but it also confronts the viewer with her/his own relationship to cinema. Kiarostami criticises the role of media and the media-maker in deceiving the audience – a contemporary universal issue. In this film more than his other films, Kiarostami reveals the characters through their lies and performances. Hence Kiarostami’s quotation “the shortest way to truth is lie.”
‘Close-Up contains many key elements of Kiarostami’s cinema. The main character is innocent yet corrupt. Although here, unlike in Traveler (1974) or The Wind Will Carry Us, he is sympathetic. Both behind-the-scenes and within the frame, Kiarostami is self-critical as a filmmaker. We see him in the opening scene talking to the hero in prison and toward the end we hear him talking to his crew. In Homework (1990) he interviews the children and in Case No. 1 and Case No.2 (1979) he interviews a number of cultural authorities. The filmmaker, though as a fictional character, appears again in Through the Olive Trees (1994), Life and Nothing More… and The Wind Will Carry Us. This self-conscious cinema is a double-edged sword. It can be read as a self-critical cinema where Kiarostami questions his role as a filmmaker. Also, it can be seen as a means to distance the audience and make them conscious.
‘What is so specific in Kiarostami’s style is his attention to form and the role it plays in creating poetry and humor in his films. As Tati demonstrates, and as observed by Jonathan Rosenbaum, form plays a major role in creating cinematic humor. What is normally non-humorous is seen and heard as humorous, ridiculous, or absurd through Kiarostami’s films. Similar to Tati’s Playtime (1967), Kiarostami’s fantastic short Orderly or Disorderly (1981) derives its power and humor through shot composition, the use of sound, and, in particular, Kiarostami’s voice over. The high angle long shots of the children in the school-yard lining up to drink water or gettin
g on the bus, as well as the impatient drivers who complicate traffic in a Tehran intersection, reveal the humorous nature of chaos and order in public spaces.
‘Also, form as a zigzag pattern is emphasised through shot composition or camera movement. For example, the recurrent image of zigzagging roads in his films has become a philosophical and metaphysical statement as well as revealing the general situation of his characters. The zigzag path in Where is the Friend’s House? (1987) shows the many turns that the child has to take in order to find his friend. Similarly, the man who is driving on the hilly roads in Taste of Cherry is looking for someone to bury him. In Life and Nothing More…, the filmmaker has to find two children who acted in his previous film, following a deadly earthquake that shook northern Iran. Even sometimes the zigzagging movements of an object like an apple in The Wind Will Carry Us or the empty spray can in Close-Up show the randomness of fate. They are practically Kiarostami’s signatory shots.
‘Kiarostami’s later films, especially the three films that are known as a trilogy, Where is the Friend’s House?, Through the Olive Trees, and Life and Nothing More…, have a strong emphasis on landscape and architecture, revealing Kiarostami’s philosophical point-of-view. The beautiful view of trees revealed through the ruins of the village in Where is the Friend’s House?, the long shot of the cracked road in Life and Nothing More…, and the long shot of the wheat field in The Wind Will Carry Us, remind the audience of the beauty that the main character ignores. As Kiarostami gradually moves toward nature and rural characters and settings, the landscape shots become more instrumental in the structure of his post-revolutionary films.
‘Although Kiarostami uses small crews and mainly non-actors and no script, his recent documentary feature A.B.C. Africa signals the emergence of a new approach. It is his first film that is shot outside Iran and on digital video. The film is predominately shot in English, saturated in colour, and has wall-to-wall music. Unlike most of his previous films, A.B.C. Africa is populated with strong women characters – a sharp contrast to his previous films, where the absence of women was noticeable. One can view this as another movement in his cinema that has started mainly with The Wind Will Carry Us and is continued in his most recent film, Ten (2002), films which feature mainly women characters.
‘Kiarostami’s cinema celebrates the economy of film language and offers an alternative to the fancy, excessive mainstream cinema. A controversial characteristic of his films is how they encourage the audience to reflect and creatively participate in them. His films challenge viewers’ stereotypes and make them aware of their own blind spots. A refreshing experience of watching Kiarostami’s films is how they resist giving an expected, homogeneous, or exotic “third-world” image of Iranian culture to the audience. Each of his films, even those that are shot in the remote rural areas of Iran, reflect McLuhan’s concept of the “global village” and our disillusion of the image of “self” as separate, immune, and distant from the “other”.’ — Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, Senses of Cinema
Abbas Kiarostamis @ IMDb
‘The Films Of Abbas Kiarostami: A Retrospective’
‘What is the best introduction to Abbas Kiarostami films?’
‘Iranian Director Abbas Kiarostami: ‘The Situation in Iran Has Never Been This Dark”
AK @ Strictly Film School
AK @ The Criterion Collection
‘Meeting Abbas Kiarostami’
‘With Borrowed Eyes: An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami’
‘6 FILMMAKING TIPS FROM ABBAS KIAROSTAMI’
‘Behind closed doors with director Abbas Kiarostami’
‘Abbas Kiarostami, l’homme qui peint l’amour sur la surface des êtres’
‘Abbas Kiarostami @ 75’
‘Abbas Kiarostami, In His Own Words’
‘Nature Has No Culture: The Photographs of Abbas Kiarostami’
‘They Should Be Grateful’
AK @ Artificial Eye
‘WHEN ABBAS KIAROSTAMI LEFT IRAN, HE LOST A HOME BUT GAINED A PLANET
‘US refuses visa to Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami’
‘Abbas Kiarostami on Japan, Actors, and His Use of Sound’
‘The films that Abbas Kiarostami carries inside’
‘Abbas Kiarostami- Not A Martyr’
”A Wolf Lying in Wait’: The Poetry of Abbas Kiarostami
‘Contemporary Neorealist Principles in Abbas Kiarostami’s Filmmaking’
‘Fiction Criticizing Reality: Abbas Kiarostami and the Cracked Windshield of Cinema’
‘The Metaphysical Riddles of Abbas Kiarostami’
Abbas Kiarostami – An IU Cinema Exclusive
A short film made for Venezia 70 – Future Reloaded (2013)
Open Conversation with Abbas Kiarostami
Seagull Eggs by Abbas Kiarostami
Abbas Kiarostami at Indiana University
Lumière and Company – Abbas Kiarostami
Akram Zaatari I would like to know more about your idea of the film and the lie. Let’s start with Close-up in which a man fabricates a lie out of his passion for cinema and hence makes his own film. One of the powerful points of Close-up for me was the fact that it merges film and life. Through the Olive Trees, on the other hand, presents itself clearly as the making of a film. What’s different in the second approach?
Abbas Kiarostami Our work starts with a lie on a daily-routine basis. When you make a film you bring elements from other places, other environments, and you gather them together in a unity that really doesn’t exist. You’re faking that unity. You call someone a husband or a son. My own son was critical of me because in the second film, Life Goes On, I hint that these two people are married, and that’s what I lead the audience to believe at the end of that film. In Through the Olive Trees, I come up with the idea that they are not really married, and it’s just the boy who is really fascinated by the girl. In my next film, I’m going to show another layer of truth in that actually the boy is not really that crazy about the girl. So, my son is
critical that I keep lying to people, that I keep changing. In the next film it’s really the girl who loves the boy. My son concluded that perhaps if we analyze different aspects of the lie, then we can arrive at the truth. In cinema anything that can happen would be true. It doesn’t have to correspond to a reality, it doesn’t have to “really” be happening. In cinema, by fabricating lies we may never reach the fundamental truth, but we will always be on our way to it. We can never get close to the truth except through lying.
AZ You’re now working on a fourth addition to what was to be a trilogy. The idea of a film that develops into another film can go on indefinitely. Where are you reaching with this? Is it merely a motivation to make another film?
AK As long as this series is fresh and has energy, I’ll go with it until I’m exhausted. I have had other scripts I have made a commitment to making, but when I finish a film, I still have emotional attachments to elements of that film. So it becomes an edge on my part, to go back to the same story and make another film so I can get it out of my system. When I made the first movie in that trilogy, Where Is the Friend’s House?, I never felt the certainty and intimacy that I feel now about that particular environment. Back then it presented a new environment, new people, fresh subject matter . . . but it didn’t have the same energy. Now I feel I am much more deeply involved with the actors of this film.
AZ How did you connect to the narrative of Through the Olive Trees?
AK There was a four-minute scene in Life Goes On in which the main character, Hossein, is attracted to Tahereh, the same girl in Through the Olive Trees. It was interesting to me that the girl wasn’t reacting to him because I was under the impression that in a village community there would be more equality in terms of relationships. You wouldn’t see the kind of choices people make in urban environments. But she says, “You’re not good enough for me.” It was interesting that something like that existed in a village environment.
AZ How did the narrative evolve from that point? I read that you started with a 15-page treatment. What changed between the treatment and the film?
AK I really wanted to avoid having a film-within-the-film structure but I just couldn’t come up with anything else. So, I followed the 15-page treatment I had put together, and that was the basis of the film. I wrote those 15 pages as an encouragement to the cast and crew so they could base their work on something. But as far as I’m concerned, I’d be fine with only five pages of material. That provides enough of a narrative foundation. If you write something well in advance, you develop a fixation and a sense of commitment to it that might restrict your freedom in terms of improvising or coming up with new ideas. I like to save that kind of freedom for when I shoot the film. When you write a script and think it should be turned into a film word by word, then what is the motivation to go out and turn it into a film?
AZ You’ve said that you wrote the dialogue of Olive Trees, but in fact it belongs to the non-actors and actors in your film. Can you elaborate on that?
AK I give them the general subject matter the night before. And I start communicating with them so they can really clear out their minds from any previous exposure to a script. This way they come to the set with a fresh mind. The following day, rehearsing before the shoot, I work on it with them from an entirely different angle. Then, the moment before starting to shoot, I play this trick on them. I say, “Forget about what we just discussed, let’s go back to what we discussed last night.” The advantage of this technique is that the actors are unable to use memorized words. They know what the idea is, but they have to make up new ways of putting a sentence together. And doing that, they have the same anxieties you would have. So, I simply remind them of a general subject while we’re shooting. It’s like a computer: you want them to be blank-minded so you program them, then get immediate feedback.
AZ Both Hossein in Through the Olive Trees and Sabzian in Close-up are men who are unsuccessful in their lives. Hossein would like to marry Tahereh, but she refuses him because he doesn’t own a house. Sabzian has lost his job and his wife. However, they are both able to realize their dreams through faking reality: Hossein plays the husband of Tahereh in the film shown being made in Olive Trees. Sabzian fabricates a lie and lives for a while the way he would like to live, as a director. Your male characters are very modest, except for the filmmaker characters, who operate on a different level and seem able to solve everyone’s problems. I would like to know more about the role you attribute to the filmmaker in society.
AK I can see why you might have misunderstood me in terms of the power I give to the director. In both films, the directors are really the background characters. The real figures come to exist within that background. So the background is just a vehicle. I use the director characters to bring the other characters to the forefront. A director character needs to show some strength and power, some control of the environment. It’s only natural that they would be perceived as stronger characters.
AZ In Olive Trees, there are three strong women characters: Tahereh, who refuses to marry Hossein; her stubborn grandmother; and Mrs. Shiva, the assistant director. But these characters, like women characters in your other films, remain opaque and unexplored. Is this deliberate?
AK Traditionally, in Iranian films, the female characters are portrayed in two categories: as mothers or as mistresses. And in neither of these categories are characters I’d like to use. They lack human dimension. Many Western films suffer from the same shortcomings. Women are treated like cosmetic characters, just to boost box office sales. There are two other types of women characters in Iranian films. The first is the heroic type, which I can’t relate to because they’re too shrewd. The second is the victim, which again is a type I can’t relate to. Outside of these four categories there isn’t much left to deal with. There are exceptional women characters, but then I don’t make movies about exceptions. I would like to deal with normal women, and I don’t find too many of them. I would like to have that kind of woman character whose womanhood is not an issue, but I just can’t find them. There’s an Italian actor, Lando Bozanco, whose films are very popular in Iran. His characters are macho and naive at the same time. In Iranian films you have a lot of women who are like that male character. They are too concerned or too much aware of their womanhood, and are somewhat pretentious about it.
AZ And your male characters are the opposite of that.
AK They are just normal human beings. Their sexuality is not a question.
AZ You rely on your own experiences in your films, things that happen within the family or that you observe in society. What do you think outsiders to your culture wouldn’t understand in your films?
AK I normally go with the most commonplace experiences, so every type of audience can relate to them. Can you pinpoint something in particular that you think relates to me personally and would not be visible to other audiences?
AZ Is there any kind of humor, for example, that specific audiences would or would not react to?
AK The audiences have different expectations, and it wouldn’t be correct to categorize them by the regions they come from. There is a relationship with which I can’t interfere between the film and its audience. The movies and the way audiences react to them have to d
o with the audience’s minds, and it’s not something we can measure like somebody’s shoe size.
AZ Since you have worked so much with local communities in Iran, do you think you can work in some other society where you haven’t lived? Do you think you can come up with plots with the same power?
AK What is Iranian about Through the Olive Trees and Close-up? In Olive Trees, there is nothing terribly Iranian about the relationship between Hossein and Tahereh. The same is true about Sabzian and the way he relates to the family. It’s not really Iranian. I make my films about human beings and their universality. In that sense I don’t restrict myself to a certain area. We may be different in terms of the color of our skins, but we get the same toothaches.
AZ I think what speaks to the fact that your films do come from a very specific place is the way you examine the tension between tradition and modernity, between rurality and urbanity. The audience is made aware of the presence of new settlements next to a highway. We hear the noise of cars but never see them.
AK I’m only posing questions by showing those types of conflicts. I would never think of myself as someone who also comes up with some way of resolving them. In a scene in Olive Trees, a bunch of girls are dressed in black and later another bunch of children are dressed in bright colors. Compared to the earlier scene in the film where women are dressed in black, I treated the colorful scene with a lot more freedom to evoke an open environment. To me, that is the visual comment I’m making. I react with sorrow to any sort of change that would not be consistent with the freedom of people. When they chop down trees to construct buildings, I feel the same sadness.
AZ But isn’t that the way things have been going for a long time?
AK That’s why I mentioned earlier not to expect a solution or a judgement from me. I feel the same way about the idea of my grandmother’s death. I’m really sad, but there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t have the power to say, “No, I want to keep her forever.” But when she goes, there’s no way I would not be sad about it.
AZ Koker, the area you filmed, was depopulated by the earthquake. I see that as a big problem, but you seem to portray a very embellished image of the post-quake period in Koker. You called that film Life Goes On, as if the problems of the earthquake had been overcome, which is not the case.
AK I would agree with you that I do embellish. Life is alive and well and keeps on going. Life is stronger than death because life is still there. After I made the second film, somebody asked, “When do you think the normal life of these people will resume again?” And I said, “On the third day, when I saw them washing their carpets.” But I was mistaken when I talked further with the people. I realized they had stories going back to the time of the earthquake. There was a man who had fallen under a huge piece of metal, and the minute he started to get out from under it to save himself—as far as he’s concerned—that’s when life started again.
AZ In the beginning of this interview you mentioned something about your process of filmmaking being very open to change. From casting to editing, a film might transform into a different film. Can you comment more on what qualities this adds to the film? Could it be a film that is more open to interpretation, for example?
AK I wouldn’t know about people’s interpretations, but I find it extremely useful in terms of the way I work. It allows me to make those changes. During the film you have Hossein correct the director. He tells him that the girl doesn’t have to say Mr. Hossein—when she addresses him, that “Hossein” is enough. When you don’t have a prepared script and are allowing that kind of freedom you can have situations like that. Sometimes we go from Tehran to remote villages, and it would be a mistake for us to go there with preconceptions and the inability to change.
AZ I wanted to compliment you on the use of sound in your film. Relying on ambient sounds, you rarely use music as an emotional guide.
AK For some directors the significance of sound is more important than the visual. When we go out to shoot, sometimes people ask the crew where they’re going and they say, “We’re just going to record some sound, but we’re taking a cinematographer with us, just in case.” If you just concentrate on the visual, you would be dealing with only one side of the cube. Sometimes we put so much emphasis on our shot, it’s as if we’re telling the world, “Shut up, the picture is so important!” But if you look at you and me sitting here talking, there are all these noises around us. That’s an important part of reality.
17 of Abbas Kiarostami’s 44 films
The Traveler (1974)
‘Kiarostami’s first full-length feature (following the hour-long The Experience) depicts the adventures of a resourceful but amoral 10-year-old boy, Qasem, who will stop at nothing to see the Iranian national football team play an important match at a stadium in Tehran. By stealing money from his parents, swindling his schoolmates, and selling off his own football team’s gear, he manages to finance a ticket and traveling expenses. But the trip that ensues doesn’t quite go according to plan.’ — Film Society of Lincoln Center
A Suit for Wedding (1976)
‘Through almost purely visual means, Kiarostami creates an O. Henry–like story of a wedding suit “borrowed” from the tailor’s for a night, and uses it to explore the world of working youths in the shops and streets of Tehran. To outward appearances, the boys in question have only to wait on adults, delivering tea from the cafe or being a tailor’s assistant. But with adults out of earshot, an active subculture thrives, a hive of youthful desire for that which is perceived as unattainable, whether it is a girl, as in The Experience, or, in this film, a bespoke suit made for a middle-class mama’s boy but coveted by the fast-talking street kids who give the film its life, its pathos, and its subtle class message.’ — Judy Bloch
the entire film
‘I’m calling this “Learning with Abbas”, feauturing Italian-Job-tense toy car racing (Tom Sachs, U jelly?), and a structural repetition based around the enchantment of putting coloured stuff in glasses of water, which, come on, was like inventing your own softie, and also features practically every other kidnip: a duck’s feet, farm equipment, goldfish, chugging from the box, and who can forget shooting chromatically-sequential bottles on a shelf with a massive revolver?’ — TLSC
the entire film
‘Even though FIRST GRADERS is clearly the other Kiarostami film with subject matter closest to HOMEWORK, I was struck at the structural similarities between HOMEWORK and ABC AFRICA. Both start with a reflexive intro that establishes the director’s mission; both contain the director’s visual/verbal presence and occasional direct commentary; both accept and present evidence that might not perfectly illustrate the inscribed sociopolitical thesis; and both end with the film’s most aestheticized sequence, shifting the stylistic terms of the piece. By contrast, FIRST GRADERS dips from time to time into a fictional shot breakdown instead of a documentary shot breakdown; and the fictional elements don’t really shift the terms of the piece – it’s more as if they brush us back a bit, like a pitcher throwing an inside fastball to keep us from getting too comfortable.’ — Shooting Down Pictures
the entire film
Where is the friend’s home? (1984)
‘The film that established director Abbas Kiarostami’s reputation outside his native Iran, Where Is the Friend’s Home? tells a simple story in such a spare fashion, many critics found its impact to be almost subliminal. As the film opens Ahmed (Ahmed Ahmed Poor), a grade schooler, watches as his teacher (Kheda Barech Defai) berates a fellow student, Mohammed (Babek Ahmed Poor), for repeatedly failing to use his notebook for his homework , threatening expulsion on the next offense. When Ahmed returns home, he realizes he’s accidentally taken Mohammed’s notebook. Against his mother’s orders, he sets out in search Mohammed’s house, encountering false leads, dead ends, and distractions as he attempts to enlist adults in his search.’ — Keith Phipps, Rovi
‘Homework is nowhere more classically modernist than in its allusiveness and chaste renunciation of all explicit meaning. But this aesthetic choice is equally a command. Given that he too is under scrutiny by authority (in the shape of Iran’s post-revolutionary regime), Kiarostami must tread a thin line between connotation and denotation. Paradoxically, the enforced obliquity works to the film’s advantage by lending it a wider metaphorical resonance. We aren’t permitted the complacency of thinking that institutionalised child abuse is a problem confined to the patriarchal Middle East. Kiarostami’s documentary mirror also points at us. The footage was shot in 1987 at the height of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq, and Kiarostami no less than Wiseman characterises state education as a preparatory boot camp. Two or three times, we see the complete student body assembled in the schoolyard, jumping, beating puny chests, shaking tiny fists and chanting: “The warriors are victorious… Saddam’s followers are doomed.” I have attended screenings of Homework where some viewers audibly cooed over these scenes as if determined to find the spectacle of baby militarism adorable. They weren’t being utterly thick in that a feint of innocuous cuteness is one tactic the movie uses to throw the authorities off the scent. Moreover, the esprit de corps demonstrated by the pupils is visibly shaky – hard as the teachers try to preserve a martial discipline, stray tots repeatedly break rank. (At one point, professing outrage at the sloppily performed rites, Kiarostami shuts off the sound.)’ — Peter Matthews
the entire film
‘Close-up is neither a documentary nor a drama but a provocative, unconventional merging of the two, a meditation on perplexities of justice, social inequity, and personal identity that also subtly interrogates the processes and purposes of cinema. The film met with a mixed, generally unappreciative reaction when it was first shown in Iran in 1990. Abroad, however, it proved singularly successful. Although displayed at second- and third-tier festivals in the West, Close-up made such an impression among critics and cinephiles that it paved the way for Kiarostami’s elevation to Cannes, New York, and other top festivals with his next film, And Life Goes On (1992). Arguably, no film was more dramatic or decisive in heralding the international artistic arrival of postrevolutionary Iranian cinema. At the end of the 1990s, Kiarostami was voted the most important director of the decade by U.S. critics in Film Comment, while dozens of international and Iranian film experts surveyed by the Iranian magazine Film International named Close-up the best Iranian film ever made.’ — The Criterion Collection
the entire film
Life, and Nothing More… (1992)
‘Conventionally considered the second of director Abbas Kiarostami’s undesignated ‘Koker trilogy,’ following Where is the Friend’s House? and preceding Through the Oliver Trees, Life,and Nothing More… (1992) positions itself between fact and fiction as it presents a Kiarostami-double “film director” in his search for Babek and Ahmad Ahmadpour, the child actors of Kiarostami’s (and his) feature Where is the Friend’s House?. Though the film’s narrative, implicitly modeled on Kiarostami’s presumed real-life attempt to locate the Ahmadpour’s after the June 1990 Manjil-Rudbar earthquake, unfolds within a week of the tragedy, a greater temporal gap from the time of the earthquake to that of the shooting is belied by the autumnal colors that mimetically reinforce the mass casualties (e.g. the death) afflicting the region. In this way, the film maintains a looser relationship to its stated temporal coordinates, and thus to the reality it is presenting, than is stipulated by the narrative. Enough time has intervened to call into question whether the results of Kiarostami’s search – parallel to the ‘film director’s’ – were as uncertain as they were made to appear. All of this is to say that Life, and Nothing More… is only made to look like a documentary masquerading as a fiction film. In reality, Life, and Nothing More… is a fiction film that looks like a documentary pretending to be a fiction film. Kiarostami’s subsequent Through the Olive Trees usefully clarifies Life, and Nothing More…’s deceptive ontological status: by virtue of the multiple takes of the 1994 film’s reconstruction of the film director-Hossein encounter in Life, and Nothing More…, the spectator is asked retrospectively to identify the earlier film’s identical scene as a construct, with the labor involved in its production – the crew behind the camera, and conceivably, multiple takes – erased from the resulting film. Ultimately, Life, and Nothing More… is fiction to its narratological core, even if the objects of the filmmaker’s quest and their physical environment present a historical reality.’ — Tativille
Through The Olive Trees (1994)
‘The films of Abbas Kiarostami continue to spur polarized, impassioned debates. In depicting the everyday lives of ordinary people through mundane conversations and unremarkable actions, he attempts to capture the essence of the human experience in a way that is honest and contemplative. But in the process of conveying life in real-time, his films can also test one’s patience. In Through the Olive Trees, the director shuts off the camera, only to find that the lives of his actors are far more fascinating off-camera than the characters that they portray on-camera. To accelerate this revelation, that is, to cull out the personal observations of the director for the sake of brevity, is to deny human experience. To trivialize its message is to comment on our own insignificance. Should the camera only be used as an instrument of entertainment? Is the wonder of life only worth capturing when there is an audience?’ — Senses of Cinema
the entire film
Taste of Cherry (1997)
‘Clearly insufficient as significant anecdote or standard drama, the film’s spare narrative has the opaque, insinuating allure of allegory, or veiled confession. That, during filming, Kiarostami himself occupied the off-camera seat in every conversation we see, suggests the filmmaker revisiting his own struggles with inner darkness. Yet if we read the seminarian as “religion” and the taxidermist as “natural philosophy” we glimpse a debate that galvanized Iranian philosophers of the Middle Ages, and, in Kiarostami’s handling, can be parsed as a subtle argument against theocracy. Or, perhaps this is another Kiarostamian film-about-film, with Badii standing for a fading form of auteur cinema whose final act is its own erasure. The interpretations cut in so many directions because the elements are so simple, yet their arrangement is so intricately, seductively suggestive. Why does the film not tell us why Badii wants to kill himself (perhaps because what it really concerns is why he, or anyone, would want to live)? Why does it oddly pose suicide as involving more than one person (which is actually true of life)? Here, seeing begins in asking.’ — Godfrey Cheshire
The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
‘Abbas Kiarostami’s 1999 film The Wind Will Carry Us takes its title from a poem by the Iranian artist Forugh Farrokhzad, a controversial figure who preached progressive political and feminist doctrine through a variety of written, verbal, and visual mediums before dying in a car accident in 1967 at age 32. In Kiarostami’s film, the poem is recited in what could be called its centerpiece scene—it’s the only one set indoors—by our unnamed male protagonist as he attempts to seduce a young girl in a dimly lit grotto while she collects milk from the family cow. The encounter isn’t quite as provocative as it might read, and indeed Farrokzhad’s words convey much of the sequence’s visceral and thematic weight. Preoccupied with notions of transience and temporality (“The moon is red and anxious…The clouds await the birth of rain…One second, and then nothing”), the passage is indicative of the film’s larger considerations of death and the incremental accumulation of time, as well the formal and nominal characteristics marking it as a cumulative work for its creator, if not cinema itself at the turn of the millennium.’ — Slant Magazine
‘Abbas Kiarostami, best established of Iranian directors and the mentor of several younger filmmakers, is the master of the talking-and-driving movie. He shared the Palme d’Or at Cannes four years ago for Taste of Cherry, in which the protagonist drives around the outskirts of Teheran trying to persuade a variety of people to bury him after he has committed suicide. In Ten, his wonderfully nuanced new picture, at once simple and technically bold, a middle-class woman (Mania Akbari) makes 10 journeys around the inner city. All around her is urban bustle, seen and heard, but the camera never shifts from a position near the middle of the dashboard. The lens is aimed either at her or her passenger, there are no two-shots and we never see the car from the outside.’ — The Guardian
Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003)
‘While Five Dedicated to Ozu arrives relatively free of the extra-screen factors that make films such as Empire (would we hear of this static, eight-hour view of the building if it hadn’t been created by Andy Warhol?) — it is still, indelibly, an experience, in addition to a film, for narrative and even experimental pieces alike rarely call one’s attention to the facts, the literal being there, of sitting in one’s seat with the same keenness that watching a piece of driftwood for over several minutes straight calls to mind. Five Dedicated to Ozu presents five shots involving a beach; the first three, which I have seen so far, are of a piece of driftwood that is carried away by the oncoming tide, a boardwalk anonymous people walk by on, and a bright shot of what looks like dogs on the beach itself. It is quintessential of film that we may continue to discover new details in these shots; an equivalent painting* of, say, a black square on a yellow background would involve the same principles of emphasis and balance, but film moves — it changes, the horizon behind the dogs slowly turns from blue to a brilliant white (by which I knew I’d went too far back, to tell the truth.)’ — Unsung Films
the entire film
‘The Iranian arthouse master Abbas Kiarostami continues his experiments with subjectivity, cinematic portraiture and fixed camera positions in this intriguing if somewhat exasperating new feature: an installation-type work that might work as well, or better, on a blank wall in an art gallery. We are in a darkened, crowded theatre, and a film is playing: it is the 12th-century legend of Shirin, an Armenian princess who falls tragically in love with a Persian nobleman. But we never see the movie – or rather, we see it only reflected in the eyes of the women watching the film. There are one or two guys in the audience, occasionally to be spotted at the corner of the frame, but this is very much a women’s picture. We hear dialogue, music, the whinnying of horses and the sounds of battle behind us, while Kiarostami’s camera shows us a succession of female faces, entirely in closeup, one after the other: all captivated by the story. The idea is elegant and high-minded, but also, frankly, a bit precious, especially as we have to take on trust the emotional power of this film they’re all watching.’ — The Guardian
Certified Copy (2010)
‘In discussing the influence of poetry on his work, Kiarostami has often spoken of leaving gaps or elisions in his stories in order to invite or oblige the viewer to consciously participate in the creation of meaning. Certified Copy certainly qualifies as a variation on this technique; ultimately, we must determine what “happens” (or doesn’t) in the film, which means that our intentions regarding the characters (do we want them to be strangers or spouses, flirtatious or alienated?) are at least as important as Kiarostami’s. As for what he intends, both cinematically and personally, some of that may be discerned by pondering the two films that Certified Copy arguably has the most significant relationship to: Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1953) and Kiarostami’s own The Report (1977).’ — Godfrey Cheshire
‘A little girl with beautiful hair. She loves movies and wants to become an actress. She is being told about the plot of a movie that she is going to play: “a friend is jealous about her hair and cuts it when she is asleep”. The girl rejects playing the role. Then she is then told that she can play the jealous girl but she again rejects the role.’ — IMDb
the entire film
Like Someone in Love (2012)
‘I’d like to start with the word like. Twice in Like Someone in Love (2012), we hear Ella Fitzgerald’s 1957 recording of the song of the same title, originally composed for the 1944 film Belle of the Yukon by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Johnny Burke. It may seem curious that an Iranian director making a film in Japan with a Japanese cast and crew would give it an English-language title borrowed from a Hollywood soundtrack, especially when he has repeatedly described his own idea of cinema as one in opposition to a Hollywood narrative tradition in which “we want to follow everything or we think the film has failed.” Perhaps we can understand better by looking more closely at the word like. Many of Abbas Kiarostami’s narratives hinge on some form of dissimulation, on acting like. To offer only a few examples: in The Traveler (1974), a boy acts like a photographer, using a camera with no film in it to collect money to buy a ticket to see a soccer game that he will eventually miss because he oversleeps; in Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), a young boy, after failing to return the notebook that a friend left behind, will forge the friend’s homework, an act of generosity that will lead to a moment of grace; in Close-up (1990), a film that is both a real and simulated documentary, an unemployed man is accused of pretending to be a filmmaker to take advantage of a family whom he told he was going to make the subject of a film. Dissimulation in each of these works is about testing the limits of authority, social demands, and expectations.’ — Nico Baumbach
NYFF Press Conference: Like Someone in Love
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Ah, the McMartin days, hard to forget, yes. And, yes, RIP to Jerry Lewis, a brilliant and complicated artist/guy if there ever was one. And let’s not forget RIP Dick Gregory who blew and improved my mind substantially when I was young. ** Misanthrope, Hey, G. Your complicatedness is only a plus. Hey, I’m no flash-read myself. I think fear of rejection is the emotional equivalent of breathing or something, so yeah. I guess I was, yes, suggesting that HS’s looks drew you to him at the very least. I understand, but I do think removing your thought that he’s attractive from the equation of your non-sexual interest would be a cheat. I would guess his looks are always there working on you even if that aspect of him is subliminal at this point. Well, yeah, it’s been ages since I participated in the escort-client thing, but I’m obviously still fascinated by the set-up. I like things that try to organize things that can’t be organized in general. I can’t explain why you had problems seeing the blog and comments. Everything seemed fine on this end. If it keeps happening, let me know, and I’ll look around in the blog’s bowels and talk to the host if need be. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I don’t think the world outside of social media is the sand, you know? It’s not like there’s a choice of either talking about something on social media or repressing what you think. It’s interesting how people seem to think interacting on social media is being public and active and everything else is being passive and private. Strange. I enjoyed reading your squib about the Cars on FB. Thank you for that. What a hassle about the IFC thing. Isn’t Flash being phased out? Their methodology seems obviously nothing but self-defeating. I personally think the world could use much more writing on the Flesheaters. I knew Chris D a little. The LA scene was smallish and pretty cozy. Interesting guy both re: the music and his writing on/behind the scenes as well. ** Wolf, Howl! So great to see you over here. I’m so glad we got spend a relative bunch of time together. Things since a few days ago have been okay, pretty quiet, but things ‘pick up’ now. And you since then? Oh, wait, you said. Gotcha. Know that one. I saw the Ismaïl Bahri show. I liked it very much, yes. The Van der Elsken show didn’t excite me much and hasn’t stayed with me. The dance piece is … needs a lot of work still. It’s progressing, but it’s having big growing pains right now, which is normal. It’ll be fine. Everything is there. It just needs to be focused and edited a lot. We have a month of rehearsals left, so it should be okay. Love, me. ** MANCY, Hi! Thanks for talking re: the post and for the kind words about the GIF work. Anything you can say about your stuff and you? ** Alistair, Hi, A! I am very much! I’m close to finished with it even! So great! Yes, send the post stuff when you’re ready and I’ll set it up. Oh, god, yeah, the weird feeling … I of course know that extremely well. No way around it. Just remember that every single writer feels the way you do at this point if that helps neutralize it. Love to you from me, and please give Tim a big hug for me to. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! I’m really glad you’re happy with how the weekend went! Me too! And I really, really liked your film. Fascinating, really. Is it indicative re: your work in general in terms of its construction, style, etc.? Really liked it! Very exciting, thank you a lot for sharing that. ** Jamie, Ho-ho. My weekend was all right. Dance piece work, getting stuff done and chilling on the last days before Zac gets back today and our work restarts. Great about the Writing Gang! So cool. And, yeah, ‘John Wick’, fun, right? I want to see his new thing ‘Atomic Blonde’. Cheesecake with sliced banana on top? Wow. That makes so much sense and yet I’ve never heard of that combo before. Huh. Delish, I’m sure. Today is my last somewhat free day, and I’ll be catching up with the last of the non-work stuff I should do, or I’ll try. Should be okay. May Monday blast off into outer space with you abroad. The opposite of open heart surgery love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool about the post stuff! I’m glad the group meeting wasn’t shitty. I would imagine that even a not so great meeting did a lot of good even if you didn’t see the evidence in bright colors right away. Oh, gosh, fingers extremely crossed about those two possible bookstore jobs! The rehearsals were very useful. The piece, as I said above, is in an awkward stage, and it’s just not working right now. That’s natural. It’s being pushed in a lot of directions at once. But nothing to worry too much about because there’s still a month of rehearsals between now and the early November premiere left to go. Not too much else happened, to be honest. Just trying to do stuff I need to do during my last free-ish days before the film and other work picks back up. How was Monday, my pal? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Thanks for talking to Nick. And about the ‘Remains’ photos. Yeah, it looked cool, right? I’m hoping there’ll be some video. Dominating your thoughts is as it should be. Everything sounds electric! Enjoy the wedding and Leeds if I don’t speak to you before you take off. ** Rewritedept, Well, hey there, Chris! What’s the haps, buddY? Wow, that’s a sweet GbV gig right there. Um, I don’t have my if/when LA plans/ideas in place yet, and, honestly, I think even if I do get to go there, it won’t be a situation where I’ll have the time to travel to LV. Wish I could. Awesome of you to suggest and offer. Oh, right, the eclipse is today. It’s not happening here so nobody is talking about it at all. I guess to the French it’s probably like the World Series or something, Mushrooms and a lake sounds like a great way to take it in. I saw a full eclipse once when I was living in Amsterdam. It was pretty fucking trippy indeed. Work on PGL starts up again this week. It’ll be done by the end of September. Writing? If you mean fiction/novel, no, none, but plenty of writing for other projects. Awesome to see you! ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris! Cool stuff about Warnke. I’m very happy to. Yeah, ZJ’s costume was very cool. I wasn’t told that she’d be gotten up like that. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go with a binge watch of ‘Twin Peaks’. Just seems right. Don’t know when exactly. Might have to wait until the end of September, yikes. My morning has started quite smoothly, and I hope yours has too! ** H, Hi. Like I told Rewritredept, I forgot the eclipse was today. I know it’s understandably massive news in the States, but, really, it has barely been mentioned here. Zac gets back from his vacation and travels tonight very happily. What kind of person would suggest Bresson love requires a doctor’s help. He must be psychotic or something. Good riddance. The eclipse at Coney Island sounds kind of really, really nice. ** Okay. A couple of people nudged me to restore the dead Kiarostami post to life, and I am happy to do so. See you tomorrow.