Kiarostami, Abbas

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Biography

Image by Mansour Nasiri/CC Licensed

Image by Mansour Nasiri/CC Licensed

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami was born on June 22, 1940 in Tehran, and passed away in July 2016. Interested in art from an early age, he won a painting competition at 18 and left his home to study at Tehran University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. After completing his studies, he began work as a designer and illustrator. Throughout the 1960s, Kiarostami worked in advertising, making commercials, designing posters, creating credit titles for films, and illustrating children’s books. He also had a stint as a traffic police officer.

Kiarostami‘s introduction to film came in 1969 when he helped to create the film-making department at the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. The first film produced by the department, coincidentally, was Kiarostami‘s own debut work, the short film Bread and Alley (1970). The film department would eventually become the most famous film studio in Iran, producing many other Iranian films as Bahram Beizai’s Bahsu, the Little Stranger (1989), as well as all of Kiarostami‘s films.

Kiarostami went on to make over 20 films, covering different genres that include fiction, educational works, documentaries, and films for television. It was not until the 1990s that his films began to show outside Iran, beginning with And Life Goes On (1992) and Through the Olive Trees (1994), both shown at the New York Film Festival. He shortly garnered worldwide recognition, and in 1997 earned huge success when his film Taste of Cherry won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or. He was the first Iranian director to win the prize.

More than just critical acclaim, however, Kiarostami has also received the respect and praise from many of his well-known contemporaries, such as Jean-Luc Godard and Akira Kurosawa, who is quoted as saying: “I believe the films of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami are extraordinary. Words cannot relate my feelings. I suggest you see his films; and then you will see what I mean” (AFI 2001).

Though Kiarostami‘s films have been compared at various times to those of Satyajit Ray, Vittorio de Sica, Eric Rohmer, or Jacques Tati, they remain uniquely Kiarostamian. Effortlessly simple and conceptually complex in equal measure; poetic, lyrical, meditative, self-reflexive and increasingly sophisticated, they mix fiction and documentary in unique ways, often presenting fact as fiction and fiction as fact. Kiarostami has said, ‘We can never get close to the truth except through lying’ (Zeitgeist Films 2000).

His Films

1970 – Bread and Alley (Naan va Kooche)

1972 – Recess (Zang-e Tafrih)

1973 – Experience (Tajrobeh)

1974 – Traveller (Mosafer)

1975 – Two Solutions for One Problem (Doe Rah-e Hal)

1975 – So Can I (Man ham Mitoumam)

1976 – The Colors (Rangha)

1976 – The Wedding Suit (Lebassi Baraye Arossi)

1977 – The Report (Gozaresh)

1977 – Tribute to the Teachers (Bozorgdasht-e mo’Allem)

1977 – How to Make Use of Our Leisure Time? (Az Oghat-e Faraghat-eKhod Chegouneh Estefadeh Konim?)

1978 – Solution (Rah Hal-e Yek)

1979 – Case No.1, Case No.2 (Ghazieh-e Shekl-e Aval,  Ghazieh-eShekl-e Dovom)

1980 – Dental Hygiene (Behdasht-e Dandan)

1981 – Regularly or Irregularly (Be Tartib ya Bedoun-e Tartib)

1982 – The Chorus (Hamsarayan)

1983 – Fellow Citizen (Hamshahri)

1983 – Toothache (Dandan Darad)

1984 – First Graders (Avaliha)

1987 – Where Is the Friend’s Home? (Khane-ye Doust Kodjast?

1989 – Homework (Mashgh-e Shab)

1990 – Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik)

1992 – And Life Goes On (Zendegi Edame Darad)

1994 – Through The Olive Trees (Zire Darakhatan Zeyton)

1997 – Taste of Cherry (Ta’ame Gilas)

1999 – The Wind Will Carry Us (Baad Mar Ra Khahad Bord)

2001- ABC Africa

2002- Ten

2003- Five

2004-10 on Ten

2005-6- The Roads of Kiarostami

2005- Tickets

2008-Shirin

2010-Certified Copy

(Filmography courtesy Iran Media)

Taste of Cherry

Cast:
Homayon Ershadi  –  Mr. Badii
Abdolrahman Bagheri  –  Mr. Bagheri
Safar Ali Moradi  –  The soldier
Mir Hossein Noori  –  The seminarian

The film that brought Kiarostami international acclaim tells the story of Mr.Badii, a middle-aged man intent on committing suicide. Badii drives around in his vehicle, looking for someone he can hire to bury him, as he has already dug his grave and plans to kill himself in it. He drives past the day laborers first, but does not stop. His plan is to find someone who will come to his grave site the next day to bury him if he has succeeded in killing himself, or to help him if he has failed. As Badii drives around, he asks the strangers he meets about their financial means, attempting to find someone desperate enough to complete the task. He offers rides to three people during the day, a soldier, a seminarian,and a taxidermist. The first two men both refuse to help Badii. The soldier runs away in fear, while the seminarian refuses on religious grounds and instead attempts to sway Badii from committing the act by preaching to him. Inevitably, the taxidermist accepts the task, because, even though he does not want Badii to commit suicide, he has a sick child and needs the money. The film ends with Badii lying in his grave, still alive when the final shot fades out.

Does Badii die? It seems that Kiarostami intends that the audience never know because it seems that the film is not about suicide but about life. Though Badii drives around in search of someone who will aid him in his task, he does not pay heed to those that he knows are qualified to do the job, such as the day laborers. Instead, he calls upon people that he seems to think might help him in other ways, people who appear to have some meaning in life, which very well might be the thing for which Badii is really searching.  “In essence, A Taste of Cherry is not about a man’s search for death, but his search for a reason for living” (Acquarello 2000).

The film’s central character wants to commit suicide, and we don’t know why. After a day of deliberation and preparation, we don’t even know whether he succeeds. It could be argued. . .that Kiarostami omits this kind of information because he has nothing to say. I would counter that because Kiarostami is speaking with and through us — inviting us to share in a collective, common narrative — we have to share part of the burden of whether the film is saying anything….  If we don’t want to think about our own deaths and what they might say about our lives — or about the possible suicides of strangers and how we might respond to their appeals – Taste of Cherry can’t have anything to say to us (Rosenbaum 1997).

Close-Up

Cast:
Ali Sabzian  –  Himself
Abolfazl Ahahkhah  –  Herself
Mahrokh Ahahkhah  –  Herself
Mohsen Makmalbef  –  Himself

Based on actual events, Close-Up is a film about a man facing trial for falsely impersonating a famous Iranian director, Mohsen Makmalbef. The story tells of the man (Sabzian) who, while he is reading a screenplay by Makmalbef, meets a woman on a bus.  When the woman (Marohrokh Ahankhah) shows interest in the screenplay, Sabzian tells her that he is Makmalbef. She invites him to dinner at her house with her family, where her husband (Abolfazl Ahahkhah), upon hearing Sabzian say that their house would be the perfect setting for his film, invites him to stay with them. During the trial, the Ahankhah family argues that Sabzian was surveying the house in order to rob it, while he claims that he first told the Ahahkhahs he was Makmalbef because he was hungry. Only later did he continue to impersonate the director because of his love for film and the confidence it gave him. The trial ends with the judge accepting Sabzian‘s repentance and asking the Ahahkhah family to forgive him, but the film does not end until Sabzian meets the man he impersonated, Makmalbef himself, outside the courthouse.

Though the events described in the trial occur in flashbacks, Kiarostami filmed the trial before he filmed the flashback scenes. His intentions were mostly out of curiosity ­ as a film director, he wondered why a man would want to impersonate a film director. When he decided to make the story into a film, in addition to casting the actual people involved in the trial as themselves for the flashback sequences, Kiarostami also filmed the trial in a crude documentary form and accidentally used a microphone that did not work during the finals moments of the film between Sabzian and Makmalbef. He blends the reality of the story with the superficiality of film to accentuate the nature of Sabzian, a man so enamored of cinema that he twists reality to become a part of it. “The result is a masterpiece about the mechanism of and the relationship between cinema and the viewer, filmmaking and acting, reality and fiction” (Iran Media). In a way, one might consider Close-Up a story about Kiarostami, as film has become the thing of which he is so much a part that he no longer distinguishes his life from his work. In the final scene, when Sabzian meets Makmalbef, the man he idolized through impersonation, “the question arises: are we still watching a film or real-life unfold before us? To Abbas Kiarostami, it is all one and the same phenomenon — a captured moment in the evolving document of life” (Acquarello, 2000).

Works

Works Cited

  • Abbas Kiarostami. Acquarello. 11 April 2000. Strictly Film School. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.
  • The Films of Abbas Kiarostami. American Film Institute. 2001. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.
  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Fill in the Blanks. Chicago Reader. 1997. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.
  • Various contributors. Iran Media ­Abbas Kiarostami. Nima Web Design. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.
  • Various contributors. Zeitgeist Films: Close-Up: Abbas Kiarostami. Zeitgeist Films.  2000. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.

Selected Bibliography

  • Abbas Kiarostami, Iranian Director. Film International (Quarterly). 1994. 2 Dec. 2001.
  • Cardullo, Bert. Dialogue with directors : conversations on film. Frankfurt am Main : Peter Lang, 2011.
  • Dabashi, Hamid. Close up : Iranian cinema, past, present, and future.New York : Verso, 2001.
  • Home, Exile, Homeland. Hamid Naficy. New York:  Routledge, 1999.
  • Maghsoudlou, Bahman. Iranian Cinema. New York:  Hagop Kervorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies,  1987.
  • Madhi, Ali Akbar. In dialogue with Kiarostami. The Iranian. 25 Aug. 1998. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.
  • Saeed-Vafa, Mehrnaz and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Abbas Kiarostami. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2003.
  • Scaruffi, Piero. Abbas Kiarostami: biography, reviews, links. 1999. 2 Dec. 2001. Web.
  • Zanganeh, Lila Azam. My sister, guard your veil; my brother, guard your eyes : uncensored Iranian voices. Boston, Mass. : Beacon Press, 2006.

Related Sites

Films Without Borders: Abbas Kiarostami Talks About “ABC Africa” and Poetic Cinema
http://www.indiewire.com/article/interview_films_without_borders_abbas_kiarostami_talks_about_abc_africa_an1/

The Iranian Who Won the World’s Attention
http://www.iranian.com/News/Sept97/kiarostami.html

Zeigeist Films’ Biography of Abbas Kiarostami
http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/film.php?mode=filmmaker&directoryname=ten

Author: Wesley Kerns, Fall 2001

Last Updated: May 2017

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