Daily Archives: Thursday, April 18, 2013

  • A Taste of Cherry Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1997)

    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
    the audience.

    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.

    Adrin Neatrour