Profile: Abbas Kiarostami

Welcome to Profile, the weekly series which examines one key filmmaker whose contributions to cinema are important and valuable. This week, we are looking at the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.

Abbas Kiarostami, born in 1940 in Tehran, is one of the key figures in the sudden surge of Iranian cinema in recent years. After starting out as a painter and graphic designer, he took a serious interest in various forms of art, eventually settling on cinema as his preference. His own son a well-known filmmaker, Kiarostami has since become an influence on those close to him and those far, his films famous across the world.

Kiarostami chimed in and proved to be part of the centre of the Iranian New Wave, his first film in 1970 a short called The Bread and the Alley. This was followed by several more shorts, many of them focusing on the world through the eyes of a child, or simply a person helpless to higher powers ruling over him. He would continue to make small films, a mixture of mostly shorts and some features, until he struck success overseas with 1987’s Where is the Friend’s Home? This film was the first in a trilogy that would continue with Life, and Nothing More in 1991 and Through the Olive Trees in 1994.

In 1990, with Close Up, Kiarostami really began to shine through. Based on a true story and recreated with some of the same people involved in the scandal from which it was based, it is the story of a fraudster who pretends to be a famous filmmaker in order to scam a family. Treading the line between documentary and narrative, Close Up is one of Kiarostami’s most talked about films. Life, and Nothing More in 1991 looks at the aftermath of a disastrous earthquake that killed tens of thousands, and Through the Olive Trees, called by Kiarostami fanatic Jonathan Rosenbaum “an excellent introduction to the director’s work” is also filled with the flowering characteristics of his unique cinema.

In 1997 Kiarostami released quite possibly his most talked about film, which divided critics (most famously Roger Ebert, who called it “mindnumbingly boring” and Rosenbaum, who sang its praises to the high heavens) and audiences, and caused a stir when it shared the Palme D’Or at Cannes. The story of a mysterious man who aims to commit suicide and drives around aimlessly trying to recruit someone to bury him, Taste of Cherry delighted audiences with its beautiful dialogue, interesting cinematography and excellent acting, and angered them with its fourth-wall breaking ending and self-referential mania.

Taste of Cherry was followed by The Wind Will Carry Us, which highlighted the breathtaking beauty he was capable of, and matched it with familiarity and even comic-relief in a few delightful running gags. This film was followed, in 2002, by Ten, which examined the various conversations that take place within an Iranian taxicab. This was followed by the intriguing and award-winning Tickets, and 2008’s Shirin.

In 2010, Kiarostami made Certified Copy, an intriguing and rule-breaking romantic drama starring Juliette Binoche as a young woman who begins a relationship with an English writer, which turns into a confusing, manipulative, layered complex as we begin to question the true nature of their connection. Filled with the trademarks of Kiarostami’s stunning direction, and superbly written dialogue brought to vivid life by the actors, it is among his greatest work. Kiarostami is currently working on The End, his next film, of which very little has been released and remains an intriguing enigma beginning at its perplexingly enticing title.

So, what do you think of Kiarostami? Which of his films have you seen? Is he your cup of tea, or does he frustrate you? Leave a comment below.

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Posted on February 25, 2012, in Filmmakers, Movies, Profile and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I haven’t seen enough to really make a judgement, a couple of the early shorts, Taste of Cherry, Ten (and, obviously, 10 On Ten)… I think that’s all. One of those directors I know I should explore further, but for some reason I can never quite summon up the enthusiasm to actually do so.

  2. Close-Up is the first (and so far only) Kiarostami film I’ve seen, and it was just incredible (definitely a fine line between documentary and narrative, though we watched it as part of a doco studies course). I just bought Certified Copy on DVD yesterday, so I’ll be watching that soon too. I definitely want to see as much as I can!

  3. chandlerswainreviews

    I have seen “Where is the Friend’s Home?”, “Life, and Nothing More”, “Close-Up”, “Taste of Cherry” and “Certified Copy”, with “Taste of Cherry” being my favorite. (Ebert misses the point…big news.) How can one be frustrated by any filmmaker willing to consistently stretch his viewer’s aesthetic sensibilities?

    • I like Ebert and he has a great way of writing reviews, but I completely disagree with a fair few of them (including TASTE OF CHERRY and his awful review of DOGVILLE, one of my favourite films).

  4. Christian Hallbeck

    I have seen “Close Up”, “Through the Olive Trees”, “Taste of Cherry”, “The Wind Will Carry Us”, “Ten” and “Certified Copy”. I too find “Taste of Cherry” to be his masterpiece. It’s a flawless film. “The Wind Will Carry Us” is my second choice. I was, however, disappointed by “Certified Copy”. I don’t think that it by far reaches the artistic level of his earlier, native films. This is mostly due to the acting… (We can’t always agree!)

  5. He is one of the most important directors in current Asian cinema,and Criterion is paying more and more attention to his work(just announced his CERTIFIED COPY in MAY release).I like his style and have a bulk of dvds in stock,will pick them up when I’m in the mood.

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