Nationality: Iranian. Born: Teheran, Iran, June 22, 1940. Education: Studied fine arts at Teheran University. Family: Married (divorced); son: Bahman. Career: Poster designer, children's book illustrator, and director of commercials, 1960–68; co-founder of state-run Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, which included film production, 1969; filmaker, 1969—; directed first short film, 1970; directed first feature film, The Traveler, 1974. Awards: Bronze Leopard, Locarno International Film Festival, for Where Is the Friend's House?, 1989; Critics Prize, Sao Paulo Film Festival, 1994, and Golden Rosa Camuna, Bergamo Film Festival, 1995, for Through the Olive Trees; Palme d'or, Cannes Film Festival, for Taste of Cherry, 1997; UNESCO Fellini Medal, 1997; FIPRESCI Award and Grand Special Jury Prize, Venice Film Festival, for The Wind Will Carry Us, 1999. Address: c/o Zeitgeist Films, 247 Centre St., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10013.
Films as Director:
Nan va Koutcheh (Bread and Alley) (+ sc)
Zang-e Tafrih (Breaktime) (+ sc)
Tadjrebeh (The Experience) (+ sc, ed)
Mossafer (The Traveller) (+sc)
Man ham Mitoumam (So I Can) (+sc, ed)
Dow Rahehal Baraye yek Massaleh (Two Solutions for One Problem) (+ sc, ed)
Rangha (The Colours) (+ sc, ed)
Lebassi Baraye Arossi (A Suit for Wedding) (+ sc, ed)
Gozaresh (The Report); Bozorgdasht-e mo'Allem (Tribute to the Teachers) (+sc); Az Oghat-e Faraghat-e Khod Chegouneh Estefadeh Konim? (How to Make Use of Our Leisure Time?) (+sc)
Rah Hal-e Yek (Solution No.1) (+ sc, ed)
Ghazieh-e Shekl-e Aval, Ghazieh-e Shekl-e Dou Wom (First Case, Second Case) (+ sc, ed)
Behdasht-e Dandan (Dental Hygiene) (+sc, ed)
Be Tartib ya Bedoun-e Tartib (Orderly or Unorderly/Regularly or Irregularly) (+sc, ed)
Hamsarayan (The Chorus) (+sc, ed)
Hamshahri (Fellow Citizen) (+sc, ed); Dandan Dard (Toothache) (+ sc)
Avaliha (First Graders) (+sc, ed)
Khane-ye Doust Kodjast? (Where Is the Friend's House?) (+ sc, ed)
Mashgh-e Shab (Homework) (+ sc, ed)
Nema-ye Nazdik (Close-Up) (+ sc, ed, ro as himself)
Zendegi Edame Darad (And Life Goes On. . . /Life, and Nothing More) (+ sc, ed)
Zire darakhatan zeyton (Through the Olive Trees/Under the Olive Trees) (+ sc, ed)
"Repérages," segment of À propos de Nice, la suite; segment of Lumière et compagnie (Lumière and Company)
Ta'm e guilass (Taste of Cherry ) (+ sc, ed)
Bad ma ra khabad bord (The Wind Will Carry Us) (+ sc, ed)
Kelid (The Key) (sc); Sarari be Diare Mosafer (Journey to the Land of the Traveller) (ro)
Safar (The Journey) (sc)
Badkonake sefid (The White Balloon) (sc)
Volte sempre, Abbas! (sc); Beed-o Baad (sc)
By KIAROSTAMI; articles—
Interview with Farah Nayeri, in Sight and Sound (London), Decem-ber 1993.
"Real Life Is More Important than Cinema," interview with Pat Aufderheide, in Cineaste (New York), Summer 1995.
"Kiarostami Close Up," interview with Phillip Lopate, in FilmComment (New York), July-August 1996.
On KIAROSTAMI; articles—
Cheshire, Godfrey, "Abbas Kiarostami: A Cinema of Questions," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1996.
Hamid, Nassia, "Near and Far," in Sight and Sound (London), February 1997.
McGavin, Patrick Z., "A Taste of Kiarostami," in The Nation (New York), October 6, 1997.
Mulvey, Laura, "Kiarostami's Uncertainty Principle," in Sight andSound (London), June 1998.
Murphy, Kathleen, "Festivals: Toronto," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1999.
Cheshire, Godfrey, "Confessions of a Sin-ephile: Close-Up," in Cinema Scope (Toronto), Winter 2000.
* * *
At the beginning of the 1990s, even the most ardent filmgoer could be forgiven for never having heard of Abbas Kiarostami. The Iranian filmmaker, fifty years old in 1990, had worked for two decades for his country's Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. Most of his films had been about children, and thanks to some European film festivals in 1989, one of them—Where Is the Friend's House? (1987)—had finally attracted attention outside Iran.
By the end of the 1990s, Abbas Kiarostami had been widely and passionately acclaimed as the director of the decade. Polls in Film Comment magazine and the Village Voice argued over whether Through the Olive Trees or Taste of Cherry—or perhaps the late-arriving The Wind Will Carry Us—were the best film of the preceding ten years. Jean-Luc Godard, no stranger to quotable epigrams, declared that "Cinema starts with Griffith and ends with Kiarostami." Even if one's enthusiasm did not go that far, Kiarostami unquestionably (along with his protégés, and his younger, more explosive compatriot Mohsen Makhmalbaf) pulled the cinema of Iran onto the world stage, both inducing and capitalizing on the gradual thaw in Iran's strictly controlled popular culture. What was revealed was the most original and vibrant national cinema of the fin de siècle. Kiarostami's achievement rests on a complex combination of factors, one of which is that his films can be utterly, beautifully simple. Kiarostami is a humanist artist, with a strong commitment to stories of ordinary life. "My technique is similar to collage," he has said. "I collect pieces and put them together. I don't invent material. I just watch and take it from the daily life of people around me." The films of Italian neo-realism were an early and lasting influence, with their unvarnished plots and homely settings. "I always think," Kiarostami told Sight and Sound magazine, "that directors who look for stories in books are like those Iranians who live next to a stream full of fish, but eat out of tins."
For all the sincerity of his philosophy, Kiarostami is also a formally challenging filmmaker—and much of his "naturalism" is carefully planned. Most of his latter-day movies include glimpses of the filmmaking crew, as though to remind the audience of the artifice of what they are watching; Taste of Cherry actually ends with a video sequence of the camera crew on location, dispelling the force of the mesmerizing story we have been watching. Film, Kiarostami has declared, is not "the manipulation of the audience's emotions. It's not educational, it's not entertainment. The best form of cinema is one which poses questions for the audience. So if we distance the audience from the film and even film from itself, it helps to understand the subject matter better."
The success of Where Is the Friend's House? led Kiarostami out of his period of making children's films and into more daring territory. At the moment of his international breakthrough, real life handed him the material for five years' worth of remarkable pictures. First, his attention was captured by a news story involving a Teheran man who was arrested for hoodwinking a well-to-do family by pretending to be filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. In Close-Up (1989), Kiarostami re-constructs the events of the story, but his method is unconventional: the swindler plays himself, and so do the family members (whose enthusiasm for movies created their gullibility in the first place). Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami also play themselves onscreen—according to critic Godfrey Cheshire, setting aside their personal animosity for the purpose of the film. The fascinating result was something beyond fiction or realism—call it a third dimension somewhere between the two—and a signpost for the director's subsequent films.
Reality intruded again with the earthquake in northern Iran in 1991. The rural area in which Kiarostami had shot Where Is the Friend's House? was devastated; And Life Goes On. . . (1992) is the story of a film director who searches the region for the young stars of that earlier film. The boys are not found, although the real-life kids had indeed survived the quake. What Kiarostami reveals instead is the indomitable adaptability of the human spirit, shaken but not demolished. Two years later, Kiarostami returned to the region to round out this unplanned trilogy, with Through the Olive Trees (1994). It recounts a small but charming romance, set against the filming of And Life Goes On. . . . With both films, Kiarostami bobbles ideas like a master juggler: in one hand a playful blurring of the fuzzy line between movies and life, in the other hand a deep feeling for the triumph of staying human despite unthinkable hardship.
All three films in the trilogy featured a Kiarostami trademark, the obsession with journeys, and with the image of people or cars traversing long roads. The repetition of this image reached its culmination in Taste of Cherry (1997), much of which takes place across an oft-traveled stretch of road outside Teheran. A suicidal man picks up a series of strangers and drives around with them, hoping to convince someone to return to a certain spot the following morning and cover his dead body with dirt (a prompt burial being part of Islamic custom). The conversations, the parched, dun-colored locale, the constant movement, become hypnotizing.
The 1997 Cannes Film Festival agreed, naming Taste of Cherry the co-recipient of its top award, an official benediction for the Iranian film industry (although the film was banned from public screening in Iran, thanks to fundamentalist criticism of the taboo subject of suicide). Indeed, the rapturous response to Kiarostami among critics and festival programmers has been of a kind not seen much since the heyday of the French New Wave, but without the corresponding enthusiasm of the public at large (or at least the segment of the public that can be expected to frequent the arthouse). In the light of the unanimity of critical acclaim, it was intriguing to read Film Comment's Kathleen Murphy sound a note of caution, if not exasperation, with the sometimes "trying" repetitions and metaphysical imagery of Kiarostami's 1999 release The Wind Will Carry Us, "raising questions," she suggests, "of directorial self-indulgence."
Despite the demur, Kiarostami's accomplishment over the course of the preceding dozen years was formidable. Like Hou Hsiao-hsien, his Taiwanese counterpart, he had maintained an incredibly prolific string of artistic successes, and had stretched the definition of what a movie is with each new picture. And the journey continues. . . .