Tag Archives: Abbas Kiarostami

XL Popcorn – Taste of Cherry

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 700/1007Title: Ta’m e guilass (Taste of Cherry)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Year: 1997
Country: Iran

It’s taken me nearly a year and a half, but I have finally made my way into the next hundreds for the 1001 movies list. Since it is such an odd number (seriously, 1007 is not a nice number for these sorts of things) I know that 700 isn’t the most meaningful landmark to hit, but it’s nice to know that I really am just that bit closer to my end goal.

I picked Taste of Cherry as film 700 for one main reason: it has been two years since I last watched an Iranian film (I believe that was Gabbeh) and I have waited long enough. Also, this is a film that I have been wanting to see for ages – ever since I saw L’enfant by the Dardenne Brothers and thought it would be a good idea to watch all the winners at Cannes. Spoiler alert: I never followed through.

Despite all the long takes of sprawling scenery, Taste of Cherry is an intimate film centred around a middle-aged man who is looking for someone to bury him once he commits suicide. We watch him converse with a number of people that he picks up in his car (a soldier, a religious man and a taxidermist) who are all of different ethnicities to him (Kurd, Afghan and Azeri respectively). Through this we get a number of interesting looks into the dilemma of how best to answer this man’s macabre request.

The weird ending aside – which is a small making of scene where we see them filming soldiers running in the distance – this film left me wondering about whether he actually did go through with his planned suicide in the end. Since we’re never privy to why he wants to end his life, I guess we’ll never know. Due to how he seems to waver in his final discussions with the taxidermist, I think he may have decided not to – especially seeing how scared he looked laying in his own grave.

I still prefer Through the Olive Trees and Close-Up to Taste of Cherry, whilst I really did appreciate the questions raised and the mood that Kiarostami was able to cultivate through his use of silence and long takes – there were a number of sections that allowed to mind off of the film rather than keeping me engaged. Also, like with Yol the level of acting by some of the non-professional actors kept snapping me out of the disbelief.

XL Popcorn – The White Balloon / Close-Up

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The White Balloon (Badkonake sefid)
Director: Jafar Panahi
Year: 1995
Country: Iran

I’m back in Iran and it is a very different world to Through The Olive Trees. It has the same writer (famed director Abbas Kiarostami), but it just goes to prove how different it is in various areas of Iran. The director (Jafar Panahi) uses a similar realistic style to Kiarostami in his direction, which borders on realism with the idea of finding “beauty” is something so normal.

This is his debut film. In ten years time he will go on to direct the more controversial “offside”, a film that I saw 10 years ago (that’s devestating to realze). It is an interesting film to debut with as it is now marketed as a family film. I’ve also seen it written up as a way for English speaking parents to introduce their children to subtitles and arthouse films.

The central focus of the film is a seven year old girl called Razieh. She, more than anything, wants a big fat goldfish. After pestering her mother for the money she sets out to buy her dream fish. Of course, things are not that simple. It is stolen by a snake seller, where none of the surrounding adults actually help the crying girl get her money back. She does when one of the snake sellers takes pity on her, but what about the 15 to 20 grown men who just stand there and laugh at the spectacle. Ugh!

Aida Mohammadkhani, who plays the little girl, is perfect. I mean, sure, she starts off rather bratty since she is asking for a bigger fish as all the others in the family pond are too thin for her. She wins your heart in the end when you realise she’s just a little kid. The goldfish itself appears to be a metaphor for Iranian culture in general. The fish in the pond are probably not as thin as she thinks, there is a scene at the goldfish shop where we get the hint that you’ve been looking at things using the wrong perspective. This only hit me at the end of the film when I started to wonder why this was called The White Balloon.

The focus is so much on the girl who wants money for a fish when there is actually a societal point. The white balloon does not refer to the girl and or her brother (who later joins in search of the lost money), but to the balloon seller that helps them out at the end. He looks different from everyone else we see. In fact, he looked remarkably East Asian (I read up later that he is Afghan). I actually noticed him in the beginning sequence selling his balloons since, obviously, I figured he would be a big character as the title has the word balloon in it.

The film ends with the kids getting their money back and the Afghan balloons seller being left alone without much notice. It’s quite a melancholic ending despite the fact that the girl got the money back and runs off in victory to buy her fish. An interesting one for parents to explain to their children if they notice how the director has chosen to end it.

Title: Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Year: 1990
Country: Iran

I enjoyed my stay in Iran so much that I thought I might as well stick around for a second movie. This marks the third Iranian film that I’ve seen since my wrists decided to be little shits. It is only the second film by Abbas Kiarostami and I may be becoming a bit of fan. I’m only left with one more film by him on this 1001 list so I’m torn between watching it soon will saving it for towards the end.

It is hard to describe exactly what Close-Up is. It is, on the one hand, a documentary and yet so much of the narrative’s pacing makes it feel like a expertly scripted drama. In any case this really happened. Picture the scene: a middle aged woman is riding a bus and mistakes a fellow passenger for a famous director. Rather than correcting her this man goes along with the conceit and get himself into a position where, within a week, he has been able to convince members of his family that he is this person and almost as quickly is discovered and arrested.

Websites describe this film as a docudrama much in the same way you would describe Through The Olive Trees. However, unlike that film everything in Close-Up is real. The footage is a mixture of reenactments and documentary footage. In these reenactments the plaintiffs and the defendant portray themselves, which makes it a very weird exercise. It is only in the final scene where it makes sense that both sides and would agree to do this. I’m not going to say what happens, but I was very much moved.

What does it take for someone to go to the lengths that the defendant did when he pretended to be this famous Iranian movie director? I’m not entirely sure we actually get the answer in this film. How often do you see someone who lives in poverty quoting Tolstoy during his trial? I very much agree with the assessment made by the judge and prosecution at the end of the trial. He is probably a man who for the first time in his life was shown respect by those of a richer class. He is also someone who clearly has self esteem issues. It is hard not to pity him. His tears in the final scene feel so genuine… and yet your left wondering if he is having us on.

It is such a thought provoking and slightly off kilter documentary. I’ve not been able to get that final scene out of my head since I watched it. If I don’t end up watching a taste of cherry” soon I might have to dig out my DVD of Certified Copy.

Progress: 488/1007

XL Popcorn – Throne of Blood / Through the Olive Trees

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn this wrist!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-jô)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Year: 1957
Country: Japan

And now it is off to Japan and we are in the very capable hands of Akira Kurosawa. One of the first Kurosawa films I ever saw was Ran when he interpreted Shakespeare’s King Lear in a masterful way. For this film he has taken on MacBeth. Due to the nature of the story of MacBeth Kurosawa is able to do more straightforward interpretation, the flavor it with Japanese history.

I adore how he represented the three witches. Instead we have one spirit at a spinning wheel, much like the Fates of Greek mythology. In fact, by referring to the surroundings as of Spider Web Forest a lot of the symbolism is already there. To be honest I wish we had a literal translation of the film’s title for the international release. Spider Web Castle is far more effective, in my opinion.

In this adaptation, so much credit to the work of its version of Lady MacBeth. Isuzu Yamada hits all of the beats dead on. She is downright spooky as she convinces her husband to murder the Great Lord of the castle. Even down to the way she walks is otherworldly. It was not for the breakdown she has at the end, you would think she had been the forest spirit all along. Toshiro Mifune as always gives a stellar performance as the lead (aka MacBeth), but I don’t think he will ever top Rashomon for me.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I am now actively trying to reach 10 different countries in a row, I would be watching another samurai film. Maybe later.

Title: Through the Olive Trees (Zire darakhatan zeyton)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Year: 1994
Country: Iran

It has been a number of years since I last watched an Iranian film. I’ve always been curious about the work of Abbas Kiarostami but I never knew where to begin. So I started with this film, which is the last film in a trilogy. Bravo Peter! In my defence is the only film from a trilogy in the 1001 film list.

Through the Olive Trees is one of those films that plays with the documentary format. If I had watched the previous film in the trilogy I would understand better what the first scene was about. We join an Iranian film crew shooting a film where two locals are playing a couple. However, in real life the boy has already tried to propose to the girl. He was rejected by her grandmother for he did not have a house and is a functionally illiterate.

He clearly adores her, but after having his proposal refused the girl will not speak to him. Ergo, he spends the entire film, pretty much, trying to get an answer from her. Is under the impression that she likes him but fears her grandmother’s reprisal. If she only said to him whether or not she wanted to be with him he would not have to continually pour his heart out. To be honest he really should take her silence as a “no”, but he keeps getting advice to try his hand again.

The result is an ambiguous and mesmerising end shot. We’re standing on a hill watching the boy and girl as white dots walking over the plains. There is no way to hear what is being said, so is all down to interpretation. I think that because of the speed of his dot and the slightly more uplifting music he was able to get a positive answer. Others have argued against this. This is the beauty of the directors use of long shots, and he is a master of them.

It’s amazing how not being able to use my hand and having to dictates my thoughts has enabled me to reflect better. Since the software isn’t foolproof I’m having to correct myself and as such have ended up having a not quite one sided conversation with my laptop about all these films that I have watched. Who knows, I might start to do this more often.

Progress: 478/1007