How often do you come across a piece of art that feels like an intensely claustrophobic experience? Watching Taste of Cherry was one such experience for me. Until I watched this movie in 2012 at a film festival, I had no idea who Abbas Kiarostami was – fifteen years after the movie was released. The experience was quite unusual and in line with neo-realism (often dealing with life, destruction and death). I heard a panellist say Kiarostami preferred to work with children and non-professional actors and dealt with rarely depicted aspects of life.
Obviously, I had to delve deeper. The university’s digital library and recommendations from a senior helped. I came back to my hostel room with three DVDs of Kiarostami’s films. The perfect balance of fiction and documentary, comedy and tragedy – the Koker trilogy. Lyrical allegories demonstrate the gentle humanism and playful dexterity that characterise the director’s sensibility.
In 1987, Abbas Kiarostami directed Where Is the Friend’s House? about a boy’s effort to return a classmate’s notebook. The movie was shot in and around Koker in Iran. The film brought international acclaim to Kiarostami and won several prestigious accolades.
In 1990, an earthquake devastated the Koker region, killing 50,000 people, including 20,000 kids. Wanting to find out what happened to the local kids who appeared in Where Is the Friend’s House? Kiarostami took a car trip through the disaster-stricken area with his 11-year-old son. The video documenting that trip became And Life Goes On.
Kiarostami’s eyes found stories in the surprisingly usual places, which often get overlooked because of their mundanity. He used the real tension between the two non-actors of And Life Goes On, making their relationship the dramatic core of Through the Olive Trees. Both movies elevated Kiarostami to the front ranks of world auteurs.
And as history has it, these films were not planned as a trilogy but became one organically. Each film is equally masterful and easily stands on its own. But together, they possess an extraordinary power and boundless fascination that renewed film lovers’ interest in neo-realist films and films with kids as protagonists worldwide. His minimalist approach and experimental, documentary-style filmmaking inspired many other directors to break new ground in filmmaking.
During my time at university, I watched all of his movies and attended several talks discussing his work. His casual and engaging manner of conveying his point with a digital camera, non-actors and sparse music made a huge impact. Many say he was the Satyajit Ray or Akira Kurosawa of his time, a creator of realist-parable cinema, often about the innocent world of children. His films are at times opaque, often baffling and even exasperating, but always captivating and utterly distinctive.
Watch this trilogy for a distinct side of Iran and Iranian kids.
Have you introduced a cinephile you know to Just One Thing yet? What are you waiting for?