Abbas Kiarostami

6.0 The Traveler (1974)
6.0 The Report (1977)
7.4 Where is my Friend's House (1987)
7.3 Close-Up (1990)
6.8 And Life Goes On (1992)
7.1 Through the Olive Trees (1994)
7.5 A Taste of Cherry (1997)
7.2 The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
7.0 Ten (2002)
6.5 Shirin (2008)
6.5 Certified Copy (2010)
6.0 Like Someone In Love (2012)

Abbas Kiarostami (1940), the leading Iranian director of the generation that stormed the West in the 1990s, had actually started out with the short Nan o Kucheh/ The Bread and Alley (1970), the tender neorealist portrait of The Traveler (1974) and the psychological study of The Report (1977). These early films were followed by shorts such as Dandan Dard/ Toothache (1980), Be Tartib ya Bedoun-e Tartib/ Orderly or Disorderly (1981), and Hamsorayan/ Chorus (1982), as well as the documentary Hamshahri/ Fellow Citizen (1983).

Khaneh-Je Doost Kojast/ Where is my Friend's House (1987) is a fairy tale about a child's drama consumed among the indifference of the adults. A world that is too consumed by mundane chores and business does not see and cannot share the emotions of a simple and noble soul.

At the village school the teacher punishes a child, Nema, because he wrote his homework on a piece of paper instead of using a notebook like everybody else. After school Nema plays with Ahmad. When Ahmad arrives home, he realizes that he has mistakenly taken Nema's notebook. This would cost Nema's a certain expulsion from school. Ahmad tries in vain to explain the situation to his mother, who is busy taking care of the baby and the laundry. When his mother orders him to go buy bread, Ahmad has his chance and runs straight to the village where the friend lives. Unfortunately, Ahmad does not have an address. Thus begins his odyssey. He goes from house to house searching for his friend, but nobody seems to know him. Finally, someone tells him to chase the cousin who is heading for Ahmad's own village. So Ahmad runs back, only to be stopped by his grandfather who wants to teach him discipline. He overhears a trader being called with his friend's last name and starts running after him as he heads back to the friend's village on his mule. Ahmad runs and runs and runs, but when the man stops at a house, the child he meets is not Nema. It is getting dark and old man wastes more of his time with a lot of stories and wrong directions. Ahmad gets back gome and cries, while his mother gives him food. Ahmad decides to write the homework for his friend and stays up till late working on two notebooks. The following day in school Ahmad is missing. The teacher is already checking the homework of the pupils. Ahmad arrives just in time to hand his notebook to the friend and save him from certain expulsion. Kiarostami's down-to-earth style is at its most eloquent in Namayeh Nazdik/ Close-Up (1990), which stands as a sort of manifesto of his art. A journalist is driving the police on a hired taxi to arrest a man who has posed as the famous director Makhmalbaf. The journalist is convinced this will be the case that makes him famous. While the driver kills time outside (close-up of a can he hit that rolls down the street), the journalist and the police enter the house and arrest the man. The journalist did not bring a tape recorder and is now desperately asking around for one.
Titles. The film begins with the director, Kiarostami, interviewing the soldiers who arrested the impostor. Kiarostami is making a movie about the impostor and interviews both the family and the suspect. The family is still hurt by the fact that the director took advantage of their good manners. The impostor, on the other hand, is mainly guilty of loving cinema so much. Kiarostami asks the judge permission to film the trial. The judge is surprised that such a silly case draws the attention of a film-maker, but Kiarostami explains that this is the case of somebody who pretended to be a director and that is intriguing for a director. Kiarostami clarifies his idea of cinema when he ejects "the director is the spectator".
The trial is shown as filmed with a cheap camera, but the flashbacks that describe what happened are filmed again in professional style. The first flashback shows a woman who meets a man on the bus. The man (the impostor) has the script of a movie by Makhmalbaf and the wife offers to buy it, but the man gives it to her for free and claims he is the director. The woman invites him to their house.
Back to the trial, the impostor pleads guilty but claims he didn't do it to steal, but simply because he loves art. The family tells the judge how the impostor moved to their house and took advantage of their hospitality. He promised the son a part in his next film, but one day the family discovered that the real director had just received an important prize and the impostor was not aware of it. That's how they became to suspect.
Another flashback shows how the father invited the journalist, the arrival of the journalist and basically what happened during the first scene of the film. The photographer let the police in and then photographed the arrest, and how he started begging for a tape recorder.
Back to the trail, Kiarostami interrogates the impostor. The impostor confesses that his dream is to make a film about himself. Kiarostami tells him that he "is" making a film about himself right now. The son accuses him of continuing his acting, of just acting another role. But the man admits that he accepted the invitation to dinner because he was hungry. That was the first reason, and then he couldn't resist the t emptation to actually "be" a director.
The judged is moved by the man's honesty and his declaration of repent. The judge asks the family to forgive him and the family accepts. The impostor leaves the court and is met by a man on a motorcycle: it is the real Makhmalbaf, and the scene is being filmed (awkwardly) by Kiarostami. The director gives him a ride on a motorcycle and Kiarostami follows them on a car, but the microphone is not working properly and so Kiarostami can capture only every other sentence. Finally, they arrive at the house of the family, and the impostor rings the bell. When he says his real name, nothing happens. Then he says he is the director, and they open the door.
The impostor gives them some flowers and is invited inside with Makhmalbaf.
The film is a metaphor on film-making. Kiarostami is paridying everybody while worshipping cinema. The journalist is not interested in art, is only interested in a scoop that hopefully will boost his career. The bourgeoise does not understand the irrational impulse of the imagination and is only concerned with the money he borrowed and saving face. The film that Kiarostami is making inside the film is filmed with the cinematographic skills of an amateur (the trial is filmed with fuzzy colors, the scene with the real director is filmed with a microphone that doesn't work). The impostor confesses that his first motive was to get some food and only later his passion for art. To some extent, the film is also a parody of Italian neorealism and the French nouvelle vague.

Zendegi Va Digar Hich/ And Life Goes On (1992) is a mock documentary about Kiarostami himself on a trip to revisit his film Khaneh-Je Doost Kojast/ Where is my Friend's House.

Right after the 1990 earthquake the director decides to drive back to the village where he filmed the famous film and find the two children who were the protagonists. He takes his child with him. The ride is long and arduous. There are landslides everywhere and everywhere there are refugees scavenging the rubble and mourning the dead. As the car makes its way through the crowds, news and views of worse and worse disasters are heard... cars crashed under falling rock... hospitals collapsed... entire villages wiped out. The road is congested. The director decides to take a side road that winds up steeply. He asks passers-by for directions. They tell him to go back because the road is too difficult and dangerous for a car, but he is determined to get to the village, and knows that the main road will be blocked for too long. Along the way they meet ordinary people who are trying to rebuild their lives among the ruins. Finally they are told that they are very close to the village, and that the two boys have just been spotted along that very road. The catch is that the road gets even steeper. The director has to try twice before his car can get to the top of the curves, but finally he makes it and is on his way to the last stretch. This documentary is another metaphor for the art of making films. The director's job is a journey through ordinary people that requires a lot of determination and attention.

Ta'ame-gilas/ A Taste of Cherry (1997) is the film that established his reputation world-wide. It is the document of an existential crisis, but focusing on the last manic minutes of a man's life, without any details on why he wants to take his life. It is also mainly a "driving" film, meaning that the film is almost entirely about this man driving around and looking for someone who can "help" him (one way or another). Pointedly, Kiarostami does not give us any ending. We are only told what the man wants to do and the reasons why he should not do it. But not what he actually does.

A man drives around in a nice car, staring at men in the street as if he is "shopping" for a body. In the outskirts of town, he stops to listen to a phone conversation and then tries to pick up the man, but the man sends him away. The driver then picks up a young soldier and, again, offers him money to help him, but this time we learn that this is not a pervert looking for a lover: he wants the soldier to come back in the morning and bury him, after he has committed suicide by letting himself die in a hole. The soldier is scared and runs away. The driver is left alone, again, in the desolate landscape. He finds another man, a seminarist, but this one refuses on religious grounds.
Suddenly, someone offers to do it. He's an old man who works at the museum, and needs money to cure his child. But, as they drove around together, the old man tells him why he shouldn't commit suicide: life has a lot to offer. The driver drops him off at the museum, then drives back to make sure the old man will keep his word. Then, at night, drives to the hole and jumps into it, while it is starting to rain.
At sunrise, Kiarostami's crew is on the hills shooting the film... Soldiers are smiling at them.

Zire Darakhatan Zeyton/ Through the Olive Trees (1994), mostly improvised and played by nonprofessional actors, is a romantic comedy of sorts, set among the victims of a devastating earthquake in accordance with ancient rural customs. By the end of the film two understated themes emerge. The director plays the role of "deus ex machina", by forcing the girl to talk to the boy when she recites the lines of her part: the film they are making under the guidance of the director is the only line of communication between the two young people. The city dwellers act in a very tolerant and non-judgmental way towards the anachronistic traditions of this rural world. They are clearly alien to this world as the driver for the crew is a woman, whereas in this part of the world a woman is not even supposed to say her name to a man; but neither the emancipated woman nor the philosophical director ever criticizes the lifestyle of the peasants. In this film Kiarostami abandons his staunchly neorealist style and borrows instead some of Peter Greenaway's witty elegance and some of Jafar Panahi's postmodernist posture.

At the beginning the grey-haired actor who plays the director explains that the crew has traveled several hours north of Tehran to select a girl to be the protagonist of a new film. These are nonprofessional actresses and the place has been chosen because an earthquake caused grave destruction there. Then the film begins with a car driving. We don't see driver. We eventually hear her voice when she stops to give a ride to man who is walking in the street, a teacher who was featured in a film. She helps him catch a minibus. Then the woman, Shiva, stops at a house and asks about the girl who has been selected for the part, Tahereh. Only her granma is home. The girl went to borrow a dress from a friend. When she shows up, Shiva disapproves of the dress: the film needs a country dress. But the girl is obstinate and insists on wearing that colorful dress. Shiva obviously works for the filmmaking crew. We are finally introduced to the crew, filming in front of a house. Tahereh is playing the girl upstairs. The boy has to climb the stairs and talk to her, but the boy just cannot get it right and then confesses that he stutters when he faces girls, so they have to replace him with another boy, Hossein. Behind the crew is a group of children, who walked a long distance to watch the filming. While waiting for the new actor, the director mingles amiably with the children. Shiva went to pick up this news actor, Hossein, who used to be a stonemason, but they are delayed by construction workers. This new actor performs his lines but this time it is the girl who doesn't reply. Driving him home, the director gets the truth. This kid used to be a construction worker and fell in love with Tahereh. Her parents were opposed. Then the earthquake destroyed their house, and Tahereh's parents were killed, and Hossein felt that now they were both equally homeless, but Tahereh's granma insulted him again. A flashback shows him stalking the granma in the cemetery and the stubborn old woman telling him that he is illiterate and homeless, despite his protests that he is kind and intelligent. And now, as he rejoins the crew, we see that it is a scene of the film. The flashback ends and we are back in the car Shiva accosta and asks Poersadeghi green eyes director takes Hossein to the crew's camp where the chef is cooking dinner chef lost wife in earthquake 50 years of marriage and six hchildren but does not want to remarry Shiva returns with the news that Tahereh does not want to continue filming with Hossein, so the director has to choose which of the two to sacrifice. The crew sleeps in tents. Hossein actually sleeps in a bed under the stars. The director and the older actor discuss the aftermath of the earthquake. Then the director hands something and asks the actor to give it to Panahi (Jafar Panahi is a real-life Iranian director, famous for his films within films). Shiva drives a truck. The director and Hossein are in the back. Hossein is still hopeful. He can't even sleep at night. Shiva stops to pick up a group of villagers who need a ride. They explain to the director that they are coming back to their village because life by the paved highway is horrible. They are poor illiterate villagers and, when they get off, Hossein tells the director that he would never married one of those girls, despite the fact that they look very nice: they are illiterate. The director points out his contradiction: he is blaming Tahereh's family for the same cruelty towards him. Then Shiva stops to pick up Tahereh and she does come downstars, despite having threatened to quit. The scene that they are now filming takes place film five days after they got married, shortly after the earthquake, and shows them arguing about silly facts, as if they have been married for months. The scene has to be repeated several times, and, during the breaks, the girl does not talk to Hossein. He tells her what a good husband he would be in real life but she keeps reading her book, indifferent to his words. Then the director asks to repeat the scene of the argument, When the scene is finally approved by the director, Hossein serves tea to the whole crew and, last, to Tahereh, but she doesn't even look at him. Hossein keeps talking to her, explaining how he would treat her fairly. The director, however, subtly forces her to talk to Hossein properly during the scenes, but she refuses to call him "sir", no matter how many times the director asks her to repeat the scene. Indirectly, she seems to be accepting the idea of marrying him, although on her terms. The filming is over. Everybody gets in the truck but Tahereh decides to walk home because she knows a shortcut through the woods. The director tells Hossein that he is young and he can walk too. Hossein gets the message and starts running after the girl. In the woods he keeps talking to her about how their married life will look like. The girl keeps walking ahead of him without turning and without saying a word, carrying a flower in a vase. He promises her a nice life. She just walks. Eventually the boy tells her that he wants an answer or he will never return. He stops and seems to have lost all his patience. The girl is still walking like an automaton up the hill. Then he starts running after her again. The director watches them amused from a distance until they disappear on the other side of the hill. The camera stops at the top of the hill and we see the boy running after her in the distance. When they are only two tiny white dots in the vast green space, Tahereh finally stops, turns and says something to Hossein, but we don't hear and are not told what she replied. All we see is that Hossein starts running frantically back towards the camera, but he disappears inside the olive grove before we can see the expression on his face.

Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord/ The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), ostensibly a sequel to Taste of Cherry, is one of his most philosophical films.

A car climbs the hills of an arid region, following a dusty road. The occupants discuss the route in a semi-comic manner. They fear they are lost, but they finally make it and reach a remote village. Their mission is secret and has to do with the life of a matriarch, Malek. The boss is a young engineer, who is known and respected in the village. He is offered lodging by a family and is helped around by a child, Farzad. Besides inquiring about Malek's health, the engineer does not have much to do. Willing or unwilling he has to live the way the people of the village live, and they are mostly children, elderly and women, as the men are always working in the fields. His other occupation is the cellular phone: whenever it rings, he has to jump on his car and drive to the top of the hill, where a cemetery was and were a worker, Yossef, is digging a well. A Mrs Godarzi relays messages about his operation from the city. When the phone rings, the engineer has to drop whatever he is doing. The ride to the top of the hill gives him a chance to chat with Yossef. The engineer eventually finds out that a girl of the village is in love with the worker. In the village, he can only talk with the child. Day after day the engineer has nothing else to do than check the health of Malek and run to the hill when the phone rings. Every now and then he meets somebody and exchanges a few words, thereby getting a glimpse of their customs. His colleagues sleep all the time. The child, Farzad, is offended that the engineer has treated him rudely, and refuses to be his friend anymore. The engineer is getting anxious that his mission is taking so long.
One day, while the engineer is on the phone, the well collapses on Yossef. The engineer runs for help and lets the men use his car to take the body to the hospital. Yossef is saved, but the engineer takes advantage of the doctor to visit Malek. When the doctor orders a few painkillers, the engineer offers to go and fetch them. The doctor gives him a ride on his motorcycle through the fields and teaches him a lesson of philosophy.
Malek dies. The women parade in the funeral procession. The engineer is about to leave on his car but first takes pictures of the ceremony. This was the secret mission.
The engineer is looking for death (the death of the old lady) but finds life: while waiting for death, he discovers life. He is slowly swallowed by the life of the village, that is a more natural kind of life. But he is fundamentally dead inside, and never lets the life of the village contaminate him. He is a photographer, who can only appreciate the colorful clothes and the ancient ceremonies. He cannot penetrate their true nature. And, perhaps, even kills the old lady to get rid of that village and return to his business. And the last thing he does is take a picture of the funeral, salivating like a voyeur.
Kiarostami has little interest in the plot. He seems to enjoy leaving the audience in the dark. We never learn what the engineer's mission was. We never see his colleagues. We never learn whether he caused her death. We never even see the worker who is digging the well: we only see his feet when they carry him unconscious to the car.
As usual the child is a protagonist, even if he is not the main protagonist. The child reflects the engineer's state of mind: friendly and gentle, angry and anxious. When the child abandons the engineer, the engineer has finally lost touch with the village life.
As usual, Kiarostami's close-ups are all for the protagonist. We see the engineer when the engineer meets somebody else. The camera is fixed on him, and rarely shows the people he meets. We know he's meeting somebody because we see that he is talking to somebody, not because we see that person.

Ten (2002) is the portrait of an upper-class woman through the eyes of her child and through a number of dialogues that take place in her car. The whole film is shot inside the car. The protagonist never steps out of it. Her social life, including the relationship with her son and her sister, seems to be confined to the car. This is an unusual road movie, that does not take place on a origin-to-destination axis but within the walls (and frantic traffic) of a city. The randomness of the trip (implicit in most road movies) is here made explicit: there is no destination that she is driving at. In a sense, though, there are many destinations that she is driving at. At even closer investigation, the people she drives around "are" the destinations. The fact that she drives gives the illusion that she is in charge of her own life, a fact that remains in doubt till the end, when she basically surrenders to destiny and maybe, by doing so, does conquer her own peace of mind. The film can be viewed as both a document of proto-feminist awareness and as post-feminist revisionism. But the real point is the commentator is largely silent, content with showing ordinary city lives.

The film begins with the close-up of a child sitting in the passenger's seat of a car. (You can tell this is Teheran, because nobody, not even the child, ever weats a seatbelt). For several minutes the camera focuses on the child. One can hear the noise of the traffic (the constant soundtrack of the film) and the words of his mother, who is driving the car, but can only see the face of the child. Her mother divorced their father, and apparently lied at the divorce trial to overcome laws that favor the man. The child is resentful that she re-married and that she is a spoiled woman (a maid takes care of the house, while she seems to spend the entire day driving around). She drops the child off at her ex-husband's house.
The second episode opens with her sister waiting in the car. The protagonist returns with a bag of food. As they drive back home, they chat. Her sister warns her that Amin, the child, is getting too rebellious.
The third episode is about an old lady to whom the protagonist offers a ride to the mosque. Praying is the sole occupation of the old woman.
The fourth encounter is with a prostitute, who got into the car when the protagonist stopped. The protagonist's morbid curiosity dies away as the prostitute tells her how husbands cheat on their wives and how, after all, they are all prostitutes: wives are wholesalers, whereas prostitutes are retailers.
Next, the protagonist gives a ride to a very polite and a little shy young woman who finds solace in prayer.
After another scene with the boy, who shows no affection for his mother and wants to be taken to his grandmother's, the protagonist picks up her sister, who is crying because her husband left her after seven years of marriage. The protagonist tries to cheer her up with talks of how weak women are and how they should be stronger.
The protagonist tells her son that she has decided to hand him over to his father. Her sister convinced her that he needs to grow up with a man. Amin is surprised and can't be as confrontational as usual. She, on the other hand, looks peaceful and reassured by this turn of events.
Then the protagonist meets the shy young woman again. This girl is now also sad and jealous, because her fiance` dumped her. She even shaved her head. The two women sympathize.
The last scene is, again, the scene where the mom picks up the child from the father and the child asks to visit grandmother (which could mean that the last few scenes only took place in the protagonist's mind).
Shirin (2008) is an experimental film in which famous actresses watch a film about an ancient Persian legend that has to do with women.

Certified Copy (2010) was his first English-language film and the first filmed outside Iran. It is a mystery story that plays with the notion of the "fake", of the "forgery", and therefore with truth. It is also a psychologically twisted, quasi-patholigical, love story between two lonely people. By the end they start behaving like husband and wife and we will never know if they really are husband and wife, and, if not, why they started behaving as such. However, it is too verbose and the acting is not up to Kiarostami's standards.

A middle-aged British writer, James, is giving a talk in Italy about his recent book "Certified Copy" whose thesis is that a copy is as good as the original, and actually nothing is truly original. A middle-aged woman A French art dealer is sitting among the audience but her teenage son rudely interrupt her and causes her to leave early. At the restaurant he accuses his mother of having fallen in love with the writer. She gets angry but actually the boy is right on target, as she finds an excuse to spend the day with the writer. She offers him a driving tour of the countryside. She is hurt by his cynicism about everything being a copy and she has to deal with an annoying son back home. She takes him to a museum where the main attraction is actually a well-known forgery, but such a good one that the museum decided to honor it. James and the art dealer sit at a cafe and keep discussing James' views until James receives a call and steps outside. The woman is then approached by the owner of the cafe who starts chatting about husbands, assuming that James is the art dealer's husband. The art dealer plays along, pretending to be the wife. When James returns, she tells him the truth, as something amusing, but, when they leave, they start arguing for real like husband and wife. They alternate English and French. She told the cafe owner that she has been married for 15 years and now they talk about their 15-year-old marriage. Her son becomes their son. They spend quite a bit of time arguing about a statue in the fountain of a square: she thinks it is a masterpiece, he barely looks at it. She asks two French tourists to intervene, and the man, who is older than James, gives him advice, from husband to husband: put your hand on your wife's shoulder. Later James does just that, and she reacts with enthusiasm. They sit at a restaurant. She goes to the restrooms to make herself pretty for him, but, when she returns to the table, he has plunged into a disruptive mood and totally ruins their dinner making references to 15 years of unhappy marriage. They walk in front of the hotel where they slept the first night after the wedding and ask the hotel owner to visit the same room. In the room she gets upset that he forgot so much about that first night, and he simply apologizes that his memory is bad.

Raiku Samuwan in Rabu/ Like Someone In Love (2012) is set in Japan. It is a slow and melancholy portrait of two existential losers in a wealthy western society, an old man and a young woman. Kiarostami indulges in very realistic details of ordinary lives. The acting is impeccable. The cryptic ending only emphasizes the irresponsibility of their lives.

Akiko, a student, is having dinner with the older friend Nagisa at a restaurant. when her boyfriend Noriaki calls her, jealous that she's been avoiding him. An older man sits at her table and tells her to terminate the relationship. We realize he is a pimp and they are prostitutes. Akiko tells the old pimp, Hiroshi, that her granma in town, plus she has to prepare for university examps. The pimp insists that she takes a client that night but doesn't tell her why it's so important. On the taxi to the appointment Akiko re-listens to the messages that granma left on her voice mail, first announcing her arrival and then while she was waiting in vain at the station the whole day. She asks the taxi driver to drive past the train station in order to catch a glimpse of her granma waiting for her. She sheds a few tears but remains in the car and then proceeds to the appointment. When they reach the destination, the taxi driver tracks down the old man that she's supposed to meet. She enters the apartment as someone is calling him for an urgent business which he postpones. She admires his vast library and he tells her that he is a retired university professor, and her pimp Hiroshi is a former student of his. They chat and don't have sex. The following morning he drives Akiko to school for her exams and offers to wait for her in the car. He tells her his name: Takashi. He sees a young man argue with Akiko in front of the university. The young man approaches Takashi: he is Akiko's boyfriend Noriaki, thinking Takashi is her grandfather. Akiko told Noriaki that she was busy because her grandmother was in town. Noriaki explains that he works in an auto-repair shop and wants to marry her. Takashi dismisses him as too inexperienced to get married. When Akiko returns, Takashi makes a joke that she told Noriaki she had a granma in town and instead she was busy with a grandpa (Takashi himself). Takashi drives Akiko to a bookshop and Noriaki stays in the car, creating an embarrassing situation. Noriaki tells Takashi that the car has a problem and offers to fix it at the garage where he works. Meanwhile Takashi reassures Akiko that he didn't tell Noriaki the truth about her being a prostitute. Noriaki got into a fight with someone who insinuated that a provocative picture of a girl was a picture of Akiko. Now Akiko admits to Takashi that it is indeed a picture of her. Another customer of the car-repeair shop is a former student of Takashi's and compliments him on his latest book. Noriaki stays at work while Takashi drives Akiko to the bookshop. Akiko is worried that the other customer will tell Noriaki that Takashi is a former professor while Noriaki knows that her grandfather is a fisherman. Takashi reassures her that she has nothing to worry. After dropping her off, Takashi falls asleep in the car at a traffic light but he drives safely back home. After a brief argument with a nosy neighbor, Takashi receives a phone call from Akiko who is sobbing. Takashi drives to pick her up and sees that she has been punched in the face, and drives her to his apartment without asking questions. The nosy neighbor sees Akiko and assumes that she's Takashi's granddaughter. Akiko is amused by the neighbor's endless gossip, who had a crush on Takashi before he got married. Then Noriaki arrives, furious, making a scene outside the house and throwing a stone at the window: the stone hits Takashi who falls to the floor.

Kiarostami died in 2016.

(Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )