Saturday, 16 February 2008

Taste of Cherry (1997, Iran/France, Abbas Kiarostami)

Taste of Cherry was a co-winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1997. Like most of Kiarostami's films, this has attracted as much derision as it has plaudits. There are few film makers in world cinema as divisive. But why? Is it because his films lack explanations or answers? Is it their sheer simplicity, in which plot barely exists and dialogue is improvised? Is it that Kiarotami is a seemingly apolitical film maker in one of the most repressive countries in the world? Speaking of that, Iran has a very healthy film industry indeed, and for all the debate about the repression of women in Iran, there are comparatively many female directors, who tackle contemporary issues.

Taste of Cherry is the tale of Mr Badii, a man who wants to commit suicide. He gives no reasons or justification for this decision. He just wants someone to bury him after the act. Meeting several possible accomplices, he engages in conversation with them about the desperation of their own lives, the circumstances in which they find themselves. He cannot convince anyone to assist him - they all have reasons not to help. He then meets a Turk who too once considered suicide, who then agrees to help him.

Set in the hills of Tehran, Kiarostami shows lives on the periphery of mainstream Iranian society; desperate, difficult, but worth living - a contrast to the seemingly bourgeois Mr Baddi. Baddi underestimates the significance of what he asks, trivialising the burial of a man to merely twenty spadefuls of earth. It is not that simple. Baddi does not contemplate the moral consequences of what he asks - the man who agrees to help is a religious man, who believes God has entrusted each of us with our body, and that only he can give and take life.

Much like Ten, which followed a few years afer this, transport, specifically cars, are an important aspect of the narrative. It is here where conversation occurs. It is a device that 'drives' the plot. Interesting to note too how Kiarostami films the in-car conversations in close up but films the car externally in long distance.

Much is made of the film's denouement, which gives ammunition to its detractors and confirmation to its supporters. It sparks debate, it has been left open to interpretation; either you think it has nothing to do with what has transpired previously or it seems entirely natural.

Taste of Cherry is philosophical examination of life - I'm unsure we're supposed to sympathise with Mr Baddi, but more so relate to the Turkish man who assist him, who was saved by the taste of a mulberry which convincd him of the beauty of the world. Don't look for simple explanations - the film demands patience to fully appreciate its merits. Kiarostami has been considered one of the finest directors of the 1990s by a number of worldwide critics. It's hard to disagree. Only Kieslowski and Hou Hsiao-Hsien probably matched him. 4/5

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