A Taste of Cherry Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1997) Homayoun
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle
4 April 2013 Ticket: £5
retrocrit: all is revealed (perhaps)
In his direction of A Taste of Cherry,
Abbas Kiarostami (AK) is like one of those magicians who put on a
great show of revealing to an audience the method by which they
accomplish their tricks, and then undermine the explanation by
pulling off the trick in contradiction to principles of the
explanation. A switch in framing that deepens the appreciation of
In AK’s Taste of Cherry there are also
two frames at work. They mark out the two different perspectives that
AK has incorporated into the movie. In a Taste of Cherry the subject
matter, suicide, is presented within two contrasting frames of
reference which point to the different formal issues brought into
play. There is the conventional film frame which in itself sustains
the narrative with its convention of the privileged camera; and there
is the meta framing device that shows the camera and the crew,
revealing the film as a certain kind of product. The one frame
develops the fiction of the narrative whilst the ensuing frame strips
away this artifice and focuses attention on the construct.
The frame of filmmaking is revealed in
the final sequence of the film when we are shown the film crew at
work collecting the last pieces of material needed to finish TC.
This final framing points to the fact that TC was not intended to be
taken for anything ‘real’ in itself; it was never conceived as a pure
replication. The issues embedded in the story are real issues, the
way in which they are presented is real, but the narrational
presentation of them was always intended to be understood as a
construct. Perhaps in much the same way that a Platonic dialogue is
a construct; a transparently artificial device intended as a vehicle
for ideas, acted out by a set of characters, who follow a preordained
As Plato set up his dramatis personae
in such a way that we understand that what is happening is a benign
fabrication for our entertainment and instruction, so AK exploits the
potential of film to first mask the perspective of the camera, in
order in the end, to dramatically reveal its meta presence. So that
we understand that what we have have been viewing and absorbing, as
‘real’, or rather a product designed to replicate the expressive
indicators of ‘real’, is in fact a simple mechanical product of
intentionality. Virtual not real. Most narrative film is of course
simply an expressive function of intentionality: a means of giving
form to mental representations. It takes an AK or a Godard to
exploit the possibilities of this truism, and reveal it in an
entertaining enlightening manner whilst remaining true to film as a
state of mind rather than as a didactic lesson.
In TC, the final shots comprise a
philosophical coup de film, a moment of pure re-evaluation. The
exposure of the film crew at work compels the viewer to drop from
their eyes the scales of any emotional purchase on the story, to drop
any illusion that there can be a real outcome or playing out of the
vectors of the narrative, and to understand the material and the
issues therein, as pure proposition. Like the magicians final act,
it is a joke, but a good one, that jolts us into consciousness.
The issues which provoked AK’s script
revolve about the idea of suicide and the sorts of claims this manner
of death makes upon intimacy. The idea of intimacy, fear of
intimacy, lies at the heart of the film. In the opening sequence we
see Mr Badii, (B) drive around looking for a man to help him . B
drives the car as if he were some predatory beast. B looks for his
man with the kind of intense desperation that characterises a man
looking for sex. B has that mixture of concealed desire and anxiety
that perhaps AK has observed in homosexual men cruising for sex, a
dangerous undertaking in a country where some 4000 homosexuals have
been executed since the revolution. B, furtive and anxious is not
looking for sex. He is looking for a man to partner him in a more
intimate entanglement: to help B to die.
Reflection: AK will certainly know the
phrase, le petit mort, often used to describe post coital sadness.
It is possible that consideration of the analogous intimacy of sex to
death, underlies TC. Overall I think that it would be doing scant
justice to AK as a thinker and filmmaker to reduce TC to such narrow
band of meaning. The filmic use of the car, B’s proposition of
suicide and the responses of the others engaged in the discourses
all point to a imperative in the film to use its devices to say
something about the human condition. The fact that suicide
illustrates both loneliness and need for intimacy.
And at the crux of the human condition
lies death through suicide. Perhaps in the human domaine it is the
last repository of meaningful dialogue. Sex, education, work have
all become subjects of mechanical discourses, often determined by the
shibboleths of social political or ideological beliefs. Suicide,
eludes the semantic clutches of the times and the easy passage of
formulaic responses. It remains a proposition for humans about which
there is a moral dilemma. At the heart of the proposition of
suicide lies the question as to why we should continue to live when
we feel overwhelmed; when life has become intolerable. What is
life? AK in his poetic realism sets the mulberry tree against the
cherry tree. The sweet opposes the bitter.
In its narrative opposition AK employs
the voice of one who has overcome the impulse to kill himself against
the voice of one on the cusp of fateful decision. The taxidermist
has come through a self destructive state of mind consequent to
personal disaster, and survived with a deeper insight not only into
life as a decision, but into death as a decision. This individual
although in his being opposing the stated intention of B to kill
himself in the hole by the cherry tree, understands his need for some
one with whom to share an intimacy and accepts B’s invitation to play
a part in his death. The dialogue between the two men itself wavers
between life and death, the spirit and body. Poised on the delicate
balance of frail human judgement the outcome is perhaps
philosophically irresolvable and so resolved in the structure of the
film itself. But it is the intimacy of the dialogue that compels,
revealing an essential loneliness in human experience. It was this
equation of suicide and intimacy that frightened and warned off the
other men whom B approached in the first sequences of TC. In our
modernity the pretext of self destruction can open us up. Like B we
spend all our time going through the motions of being alive, the big
car the expensive tastes and clothes, only for all this to be a
pretext for our decision to die.
The way in which C is shot from first
to last is to use the actual filming as a layer of meaning built into
the film. AK transposes in the filming of TC his concerns and their
conceptualisation into the style and form of the shooting script.
AK loves cars. There can be no doubt.
And part of his love of cars expresses itself in the way for which
they have come to represent us and to define our way of life.
Incessant movement and agitation. The transversing of space the
contraction of time: and suicide is the ultimate contraction of time.
And nearly all the film is shot on the move. The opening shots of TC
are all tracking shots from the car. The haunted peering of B out of
the window; always moving on; and despite his searching, barely able
to stop, because stopping is not in the nature of the car. As if
when you stop you are dead; when you stop moving you cease to exist.
When B stops there is only the grave under the cherry tree.
Filmmaking crafted out of the enduring and powerful states of mind
associated with car culture. In TC, AK builds this car culture of
infinite unlimited movement into the idea of the search for the
assured stillness that is death.
Movement and stillness. as if death
were the only way out for us. The long shots of B driving his car
down the myriad meandering roads that lead about the countryside and
hills outside the city provoke thoughts of the nature of life itself
as a twisting road. And again the only manner in which the car is
stopped is the lure of intimacy or the lure of death, which in TC
have been subsumed within each other: a transcendence finally
revealed by the film crew which marks the end of the film.