15 January 2009

TASTE OF CHERRY (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 1997, Iran) - ‘You want to give up the taste of cherries?...’

Kiarostami revels in the art of frustrating the spectator and his rejection of an emotional approach to film making is something he repeatedly talks about in his interviews, suggesting that such faith in sentimentality is both a false and superficial means of engaging the audience. Something extraordinary unfolds in the last few minutes of Kiarostami’s 1997 film, ‘A Taste of Cherry’. After having reached the end of his journey, Mr Badi (Homayoun Ershadi), or perhaps the beginning depending on how you interpret Kiarostami’s deeply allegorical gesture of a man clambering into his makeshift grave, the film unexpectedly cuts to video footage shot of the actual film making process. What Kiarostami reveals to the spectator in those few minutes is the entire process of making the film, deliberately deconstructing the illusion of film so that one is left in a state of unsettling curiosity and amazement at the self reflexive nature of contemporary Iranian cinema. It is such a risky moment, fraught with an inexplicable suspicion towards film as a falsehood, a process that manipulates the spectator so that their gullible nature is both exposed and ridiculed. In fact, it almost seems as though Kiarostami is laughing at us in the closing moments as he simply unravels the entire narrative and journey of Mr Badi as though it was merely a conceit.

Sublimely executed by Kiarostami, the self reflexive processes are arguably aligned with the kind of deconstructive film making pioneered by Godard in the 60s. Godard’s refusal to adhere to a specific style not only recognised a discontinuous ethos but it prevented many critics and audiences from trying to position him into yet another objectionable group of film categories. Each one of Kiarostami’s films are characteristically unique but similarly share the notion of blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. ‘Taste of Cherry’ utilises an indescribably minimalist style, pushing the theoretical ideas of neo realist practioneer, Cesare Zavattini, to the point of abstraction, opting for a series of long takes and a fixed camera position that extenuates a compelling documentary aesthetic. Ideologically, Kiarostami’s deeply conflicted middle aged protagonist is an embodiment of existential anxieties in which a desire for suicide is foremost a religious taboo that very few, if any, Iranian films have tried to probe with an intellectual rigour as Mr Badi’s repeated plea for understanding and rationality. Though many of the Italian neo realist masters foregrounded the imagery of landscapes so that the ordinary characters were constantly shown in conflict with them, Kiarostami has made the motif of the winding road or path as a key signature and Mr Badi's journey sees him alternate back and forth across the same winding road as though to underline the repressed uncertainity he feels towards the idea of suicide. If only all of cinema was as unpretentious as the films of Abbas Kiarostami.

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