Coinciding with the North American release of his new film, Like Someone In Love
, The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents A Close-Up of
: a 9 day retrospective (February 8th - 17th) featuring the Iranian master
filmmaker's documentaries, shorts and selective narratives. This retro
is a rare opportunity to witness the evolution of one of the most
prominent filmmakers working today.
In 1997, Kiarostami's Taste Of Cherry
won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, putting the Iranian New Wave on the map,
shedding a light on many other deserving Persian filmmakers including Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi and Amir Naderi. Disarmingly simple yet highly sophisticated, blurring the line
between documentary and fiction and defying easy categorization, AK's
films are regarded as prime examples of post-modern cinema. But the
fact is, AK has been making films since the 70s: he helped establish
the filmmaking department at the Institute for Intellectual Development of
Children and Young Adults (Kanun) in Tehran and made a series of
documentaries and shorts concerning school children. All of his Kanun
films will be shown at the retro.
My first AK experience was The Wind Will Carry Us
(1999). A good friend of mine introduced me to Mohsen Makhmalbaf's films (on bootlegged VHS) and soon I was enamored by anything Iranian. It was a spur of the moment decision to check out The Wind Will Carry Us
in theaters in 2000, not knowing anything about the film other than it being another film from Iran. And what an experience it was! Its simplicity and humanism with a great eye for
landscapes impressed me greatly and has made me a devotee of the director ever since. What's
most striking about his artistry is his effortless, seamless quest for
truthful representation of life on film. Whether they are
shot on 35mm or with a consumer grade handi-cam, the inquisitive
interactions of non-actors with their natural dialogue often imply that
there is no real distinction between cinema and reality.
depiction of children, from his Kanun days (The Bread And The Alley
, The Traveler
) to later films (Koker Trilogy
, ABC Africa
that of non-disciplinarian. In his feature documentary, Homework
(1989), it is
obvious that the educational system in Iran is too strict and puts a lot
of pressure on children, both in school and at home. It's revealing that all the children interviewed for film know what
punishment means but don't know the meaning of the word praise. Then there are parents who
say the system is too harsh on the children, that it kills their
creativity and would end up producing a generation of mindless drones. The director seems to be agreeing with this sentiment.
The directing style he is known for in his later films- shot/reverse shot dialogue, daring structural shift are already present in Homework
Unlike many other Iranian filmmakers who actively make political statements with
their work (his former assistant Jafar Panahi being the most vocal
one), AK's films aren't overtly political. But the given complexity of his work, Iranian government bans any exhibition of AK films in Iran, fearing that there might be hidden subliminal messages. But unlike the Iranian
New Wave filmmakers of his generation who fled the country after the
1979 revolution, AK stayed and kept making
films exclusively in Iran until his first European production, Certified Copy
, in 2010. He accepted that
restrictions and censorship were a part of life in a rigid society but
always found ways to express himself in changing environs.
and bitter, The Report
(1977) is nothing like his later films that are
optimistic and life affirming. Firouzkoui is perhaps the least likable
character in all of AK's protagonists- he cheats, lies and abuses his
position as a tax investigator. After being accused of corruption and
short on rent money, he resorts to beating his wife and neglecting his baby daughter. Considering The Report
was made before the Iranian
Revolution in which Shah was overthrown and The Islamic Republic
established, the film is perhaps a snapshot of the state of things in
the era, a report on petite-bourgeoisie, steeped in selfishness and materialism. It's also interesting to see the secular Tehran- women
wearing revealing western clothes, men drinking and gambling, gridlocks
in the city streets, etc. AK observes all this from a distance. The
is a hard film to like but I can see its merits.
scenes shot from the interior of moving cars became synonymous with a Kiarostami film.
From the bustling bottleneck traffic of Tehran in The Report
to Taste Of Cherry
(1997), The Wind Will Carry Us
(1999) and Ten
(2002), the philosopher AK reminds us that life with
its ebbs and flows, is never stopping/always changing. If Tarkovsky
tried to make us feel the 'passage of time' with his creeping tracking shots, Kiarostami achieves this in
astounding simplicity- life passes you by through the window of a moving car.
A middle aged man
and his young son are on the road to Koker, a northern rural village
leveled by the devastating earthquake in 1990. They spend most of the film's running time in their car. This is the premise of
Life And Nothing More...
(1992) It is only revealed later on that the man is a
film director (a Kiarostami stand-in) who is looking for a child actor
who starred in his previous film, Where Is Your Friend's Home?
1987 film also taking place in that region). As they encounter monstrous
traffic jams and many victims of 'the god's will', the line between
reality and fiction evaporates. Shot shortly
after the real earthquake that took the lives of 50,000, and based on
his own experience driving around (with his own son), the film
shows resilience of the people amid a horrible disaster. As they
make ends meet, digging out their household items from debris, they
still look forward to a better future. They fidget with a TV antenna to watch a
World Cup match in ruins. Through The Olive Tree
(1994, a fictional
'making-of' Life And Nothing More...
), completes his trilogy that takes place
in Koker. Elegantly simple
and captivating throughout with an open ending, Life And Nothing More...
is a beautiful film.
(1990), AK retraces an imposter case starring real life participants. The result is a moving examination on 'life
imitating art imitating life', rather than sensationalistic satire about
fame and deception.
AK pays homage to Ozu Yasujiro in Five
film consists of 5 static long takes of a coastal area in Iran without
any characters or dialogue. The commonality of their films lies in
humanism and respect for their audience rather than the camera placement.
The final part where he traces the reflection of the moon on the surface
of a pond with the chorus of its nighttime surroundings to the breaking
dawn is a moment rife with thrilling cinematic magic.
first busted out onto the world cinema stage, critics didn't know what
to make of his films: Roger Ebert gave Taste Of Cherry
one star, calling
it 'excruciatingly boring', while Jonathan Rosenbaum desperately tried
to find some sort of reference in Western cinema tradition in his films. But as the filmmaker says in 10 on Ten
(2004) that in simply showing austere reality with an open ending, he believes one can entice
audience to reflect on their own lives. I can't think of a higher compliment to the audience than what AK bestows upon us with his films.
The retro includes the much praised
Taste Of Cherry
, The Wind Will Carry Us
, Certified Copy
, along with the
theatrical release of Like Someone In Love
on February 15th.
For tickets and complete listings please visit FSLC
Dustin Chang is freelance writer. his musing and opinions on the world can be seen at http://www.dustinchang.com