Kiarostami, Abbas (1940–)

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Kiarostami, Abbas

Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian film director who has achieved an international reputation for his movies. Although he has been making films since 1970, he first won international recognition with his film Where Is the Friend's House? (Khaneh-e dust kojast?), which won the Bronze Leopard award at the 1988 Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. His later films regularly were screened at film festivals in various countries, and he often was invited to attend as an honored guest and to meet with film critics. In 1997 his film, A Taste of Cherry (Ta'm-e gilas), shared the coveted Palme d'Or award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France. The international attention his films received has contributed, since the early 1990s, to the flourishing of what is called a new wave of Iranian cinema.


Kiarostami was born in Tehran, Iran, on 22 June 1940. He obtained a B.A. in fine arts and then worked for several years as a graphic designer. In 1969 he became codirector of the cinema department in the new Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Adolescents, popularly known as Kanun, and an organization founded with the encouragement of Farah Diba, the wife of Iran's then-monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1941–1979). It was at Kanun that Kiarostami's interest in making films developed. His first film, Bread and Alley (Nan va kucheh), a short, black-and-white movie produced in 1970, exhibited some of the characteristics for which he would become renowned: using children as main protagonists, nonprofessional actors, long shots, minimal or no dialogue, realistic situations, and a deliberate intellectual or artistic quality as opposed to being geared for entertainment. Prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he made several feature films for Kanun with these signature characteristics, the most well-known outside of Iran being the 1972 movie, The Traveler (Mosafer).

After the revolution, Kiarostami continued to direct Kanun's film production and as well as making several of his own films between 1979 and 1985. After leaving Kanun to make films independently, he obtained its financial backing for what would become his first international success, Where Is the Friend's House? This movie, in turn, would become the initial film of an unplanned trilogy. The village of Kokar, where the movie was shot, was destroyed in the 1990 earthquake that devastated a mountainous region southwest of the Caspian Sea. Kiarostami drove to the area to learn what had happened to the villagers with whom he had worked on Where Is the Friend's House? The result of this trip was a second movie, Life Goes On (Zendegi va digar hich), which was screened at international film festivals and earned critical acclaim. The third film, a fictionalized movie about the filming of Life Goes On, was shot in the same area and featured a love story subplot; it came out in 1994 as Through the Olive Trees (Zir-e darakhtan-zeytun) and received even more extensive praise outside Iran than had the two earlier films about Kokar. Indeed, the U.S.-based distribution company Miramax purchased the rights to distribute the film in the United States. Thus, by the time he won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Kiarostami had already acquired an international reputation as an innovative and artistic director.

In 1969 Kiarostami married Parvin Amir-Gholi. The couple had two sons before divorcing in 1982.


According to Hamid Dabashi, Kiarostami's early cinematic work shows the influences of Iranian poets, writers, and directors of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the neorealism of French and Italian cinema during the 1950s and 1960s. Kiarostami would have been well acquainted with the popular Persian poetry of the period, such as verses by Mehdi Akhavan Sales, Forough Farrokhzad, Ahmad Shamlu, and Sohrab Sepehri, and also with fiction by such writers as Ali Mohammad Afghani, Samad Behrangi, Sadeq Chubak, Simin Daneshvar, and Houshang Golshiri. The innovative Iranian directors of the period included Farrokhzad, Farrokh Ghaffari, Ebrahim Golestan, Daryoush Mehrju'i, Davud Mollapour, and Kamran Shirdel. In fact, Kiarostami's own initial films bear some similarities to the movies by Sohrab Shahid Sales, who left Iran in 1975 and never returned.


Name: Abbas Kiarostami

Birth: 1940, Tehran, Iran

Family: Married Parvin Amir-Gholi (1969; divorced 1982); two sons, Ahmad and Bahman

Nationality: Iranian

Education: B.A., fine arts, Tehran


  • c. 1965–1969: Graphic designer, Tehran
  • 1969–1985: Film director, Kanun (Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Adolescents)
  • 1985–present: Independent filmmaker


Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1957–) is an internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker. His parents were divorced before he was born and he was raised mostly by his maternal grandmother, a woman whom he adored and whose attributes are found in the older female characters in some of his films. He became politicized against the regime of the shah as a teenager and was arrested and sentenced to prison in 1974 after he had knifed a policeman while trying to steal his gun. His early life and films have been compared to those of the French director François Truffaut (1932–1984): Both men used negative personal experiences in their own youths as material for autobiographical films. For Makhmalbaf, his features Boycott (1985) and Moment of Innocence (1995) deal respectively with his prison and youthful political activism periods. And also similar to Truffaut, he makes movies that realistically reflect contemporary social problems, as is evident in his films The Peddler (1986) and The Cyclist (2000). Makhmalbaf believes that cinema is both an artistic and political medium. His most renowned artistic movie is Gabbeh (1995) and his explicitly political films include Testing Democracy (2000), Kandahar (2001), and Afghan Alphabet (2002). He established his own film company in 1996. His wife, Marzieh Meshkini, their two daughters, and son all work there and each have made films on their own. Apple, filmed by their daughter Samira when she was only seventeen, won awards at seven international film festivals in 1998.

In the postrevolutionary period, Kiarostami emerged as one of Iran's most influential directors, for the cinematic styles he had developed at Kanun were imitated by a younger generation of filmmakers, including bahman ghobadi, Majid Majidi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Jafar Panahi. Kiarostami actually encouraged the work of directors whom he believed had an artistic vision. In one case, for example, Kiarostami wrote the screenplays for two of Panahi's most popular feature movies, The White Balloon (Badkonak-e sefid, 1995) and Crimson Gold (Tala-ye sorkh, 2003). The screenplay of the latter film represented a departure for Kiarostami from nonpolitical themes to explicit criticism of the social class differences that have emerged in Iran since the early 1990s as a direct consequence of the government's inequitable economic policies. He also demonstrated an interest in the women's movement and its cinematic representation through the feature films of a new generation of women directors, including Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Tahmineh Milani. His own contribution to the cause of women's rights was the feature film Ten (Dah, 2006), which re-creates the setting of his award-winning Taste of Cherry—an intellectual driving around Tehran and picking up passengers with whom to discuss serious issues of life—but in Ten the driver is an educated woman and the conservations are about gender relations.


As Azadeh Farahmand, among others, has noted, Kiarostami since the late 1980s has been the face of Iranian cinema globally. No other Iranian director has received as many international awards or had his work exhibited at as many international film festivals as has Kiarostami. In the realm of international cinema, he is considered an auteur, a director who writes his own scripts and creates original films whose artistic merits far outweigh their commercial value. There have been numerous retrospectives of his films, both in conjunction with international film festivals, such as at Locarno in 1995, and as unique events sponsored by film societies and/or museums, in cities such as Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Washington. But Kiarostami's films were popular not only with film critics and those who enjoyed art house movies but also appealed to a wider audience. Several of his films, especially Through the Olive Trees, were purchased by film distributors for general exhibition, and these transactions provided a source of foreign revenue for Kiarostami, a unique experience for an Iranian director (although one that subsequently would benefit other Iranian directors as well). He also has been invited to serve on the juries of major international film festivals, including those at Cannes, Locarno, and Venice. Film journals in Brazil, Europe, and North America compared him favorably with renowned directors such as François Truffaut (1932–1984), Federico Fellini (1920–1993), Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998), and Satyajit Ray (1921–1992).


Kiarostami's insistence on making films that both reflect reality and possess artistic integrity has had an impact on Iranian cinema. Of course, there is a commercial film industry in Tehran that makes movies for entertainment and profit, imitates the popular genres of similar films out of Hollywood, and has no audience beyond Iran. However, many Iranian directors, inspired by Kiarostami, have adapted his techniques to make serious films that go far beyond what the famous director has explored and examine social realities such as consumerism, drug use, gender relations, and poverty. As disciples of Kiarostami, they constitute a New Wave of Iranian filmmakers whose films attract serious attention both inside and outside of Iran.


Dabashi, Hamid. "Re-Reading Reality: Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees and the Cultural Politics of a Postrevolutionary Aesthetics." Critique, no. 7 (Fall 1995): 63-89.

――――――. Close-up: Iranian Cinema Past, Present and Future. London: Verso, 2001.

Farahmand, Azadeh. "Perspectives on Recent (International Acclaim for) Iranian Cinema." In The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation, and Identity, edited by Richard Tapper. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002.

Sadr, Hamid Reza. Iranian Cinema: A Political History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

Tapper, Richard, ed. The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation, and Identity. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002.

                                        Eric Hooglund


Any work of art is a political work, but it's not party political. It doesn't approve one party and attack another, and it doesn't support one system over another. Our understanding of "political cinema" is that it should always support specific political ideology. I think if you look at my films from this point of view, they are definitely not political…. I think that those films which appear non-political, are more political than films known specifically as "political" films.