Sun, 05 Nov 2000

Abbas Kiarostami, a great in international filmmaking

By Hartoyo Pratiknyo

JAKARTA (JP): Jakarta film buffs will have the rare opportunity next week to watch two films by Abbas Kiarostami, the internationally acclaimed Iranian moviemaker who is considered by many critics in the West to be one of the giants in contemporary cinema. His name is on a par with Bergman, Godard, Antonioni, Fellini, Kurozawa, Renoir and Bresson.

The first, The Wind Will Carry Us, is slated to play on Friday, Nov. 10, at 9:30 p.m. at the Haji Usmar Ismail Film Center (PPHUI) on Jl. Rasuna Said (Kuningan), Central Jakarta. The second, The Taste of Cherry, will run on Sunday, Nov. 12, at 5 p.m. also at the PPHUI film center in Kuningan.

he Taste of Cherry, which was released in 1997 to win the Best Film Award in Cannes that same year, comes before Wind, a movie that saw its premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year and was released in the United States only in July this year.

In The Taste of Cherry the audience watches a man named Badii who drives around town in his old Landrover to look for someone who is willing to assist him to commit suicide. What he wants the other person to do is not actually commit murder, but to cover his body with sand after -- or if -- he is dead.

He first meets a young Kurdish soldier, but the youth is appalled by the odd request and runs off. Badii then approaches a man who turns out to be an Afghani seminarian, but the man only dissuades Badii from going on with his plan with religious arguments. The third man he approaches is an aging Turkish taxidermist working in a natural history museum nearby. The man, while willing to assist, still tries to discourage Badii from his plan, extolling the miracle and beauties of nature as a cardinal reason for not killing oneself.

At the end of the movie we do not know for certain if Badii kills himself, not even as the darkness falls over Badii's face staring at the heavens.

The second movie, The Wind Will Carry Us ends in a similar vein as a weathered old village doctor extols the glory of creation to a gloomy and indifferent engineer. The film opens with a small group of four city dwellers who come to a tiny remote village in the northern Kurdistani region of Iran, seemingly in search of something.

Although there are four of them, only one appears on the screen, a man known to the villagers -- and to us -- only as "the engineer" (played by Behzad Dourani). Obviously he is looking for something, though for what remains unclear until the very end.

Although he confesses to a local boy that he is looking for "a treasure", he is morbidly interested in an old woman who seems to be in the process of dying.

One single theme appears to connect Taste of Cherry with The Wind Will Carry Us: the pricelessness of life and creation. Death, the village doctor in The Wind Will Carry Us muses, occurs when one closes one's eyes to the beauty of the world. Indeed, this life-affirming attitude inspires most of Kiarostami's work. In Taste of Cherry it is the Turkish taxidermist who muses about mulberries which held him back from an earlier attempt to commit suicide.

This same adoration of nature might explain Kiarostami's absorption in the wide, often bare, open landscapes of northern Iran. It seems safe to say that few other directors can make a shot of a dry and dusty construction site as fascinating as Kiarostami achieved in The Taste of Cherry.

Like that of The Taste of Cherry, the plot of The Wind Will Carry Us is perfectly simple, yet at the same time profound in its message. Still, it cannot be denied that many viewers will find the pace in Kiarostami's films slow and the narrative tedious. But then, as Kiarostami admitted in one of his interviews, he does not like to "take his audience hostage" by nailing them to their seats and overwhelming them.

By his own admission his films reflect a very simple, almost childlike philosophy of life. It is that simplicity in outlook, combined with a masterly handling of cinematographic details that make Kiarostami's work not only a pleasure to watch, but accessible.

The showing of his work at the current Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) offers Jakarta moviegoers a rare and welcome chance to see and admire his work. Do not miss it.