Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taste of Cherry

Abbas Kiarostami is one of the most revered filmmakers in all of world cinema, and my first exposure to his work was last night when I watched his 1997 masterpiece Taste of Cherry. Starring (at the time) non-actor Homayoun Ershadi as a man driving around looking for someone to do him a big favor, to either bury him after he's committed suicide or help him out of the grave he's already dug if he ultimately decides against it. It is a slow moving, deliberate movie, but so engaging in its slowness and silences and thought that I was fascinated from beginning to end.

The lonely, but intelligent, eyes of leading man Ershadi (an architect friend of Kiarostami's who starred here and has since gone on to a successful acting career) tell us all we need to know about our main character. There's no backstory, we never know why the character, Mr. Badii, wants to commit suicide. It was a bold movie choice in the first place, making a movie in fundamentalist Iran about a subject forbidden by the Quran. And it works, though I'd be fascinated to hear the backstory on how Kiarostami got to the point of being able to make the movie, much less getting it released worldwide (where it won many awards, including the Palme D'Or at Cannes). But back to the movie, we don't need to know anything about the man. He's undergoing an internal crisis, does it ever really matter why? Does the why change anything or even develop our understanding? No, it doesn't. Ershadi is fascinating to watch in the way he leads us through this journey.

There's a lot of loneliness here, the actors even often filmed alone in the frame as the camera cuts back and forth at the conversation. Suicide, of course, is a lonely act. Many are driven to it by their feelings of being alone. Mr. Badii, despite offering substantial amounts of money, is even having a hard time getting someone to help him in his quest, another layer of being alone. It's a powerful, thought provoking, brilliant movie. Possibly the best in this quest so far.

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