Monday, 2 February 2009


“To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” - William Shakespeare

Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian director who shot to world-wide prominence in the 90s after his films reached the West through the arthouse circuit, culminating with the award of the Palme D’ Or in the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 with his film “Taste of Cherry”. I had not seen any of this director’s film and this last weekend we watched two. “Taste of Cherry” and his 2002 film, “Ten”. Kiarostami has received rave reviews and movie critics adore his movie-making which they see as succeeding Godard’s and Bergman’s. We were looking forward to watching his movies and I was rather glad to have got hold of a triple pack, “Taste of Cherry” (1997), “The Wind will Carry Us” (1999) and “Ten” (2002).

It was not a good experience… Firstly, let me say that Mr Kiarostami has a car fetish. Secondly, he likes improvised scripts and dialogues, thirdly, he loves long shots where nothing happens and the viewer’s mind begins to wander to more interesting things that have nothing to do with whatever doesn’t happen on the screen. The other thing that the audience is meant to applaud is his “honesty” and his consideration of the “profundity of everyday existence”, the “allegory of his sparse plots” and the “innovative direction”. Alas, then, I am philistine… Both of the films we watched were boring, self-indulgent and annoyingly trite, which were inflated to epic proportions through cheap devices.

Firstly, “Ten” as we watched this first. A young divorced woman, taxi-driver, has ten encounters in her taxi. The curious thing is that none of them seem to be paying passengers. The camera is static and the angles boring (this is meant to be arty) and the conversations mildly vexing to highly annoying. The characters are highly unlikeable and the window that the film opens into their lives, one wishes it had remained shut. The son of the taxi driver is a spoiled brat, the woman herself is phlegmatically selfish and her passengers are insipid or commonplace. The film is meant to be a snapshot of the life of common women in Tehran, but it comes across as tedious and uninvolving. There is no courage nor wit, no humour nor true depth of feeling (even in the scenes where tearful women confess broken hearts and broken relationships). The director is clinical and far removed from his subjects and the film displays as much pathos as a rotting potato on a compost heap.

Nevertheless, this was a somewhat palatable film and one that one could give the benefit of the doubt to. All directors have flops, so surely the masterpiece “Taste of Cherry” had to vindicate the director’s excellent credentials and surely it would worthy of the Palme D’ Or it won at Cannes, right? WRONG! There is a Greek proverb that says: “When you go to the place where reputedly there are lots of cherries, take with you a small basket”… Nowhere was this more apt than in this boring film “Taste of Cherry” where a trite pseudophilosophy is milked for all it’s worth.

Let me put it this way, if you like Paulo Coehlo, you’ll probably like this film. It’s the same appeal to the universal triteness that is phony and manufactured to pander to the new age sensibilities of a reactionary counter-culture and pseudo-intellectual crowd who couldn’t be bothered to read real philosophy but rather wanted predigested, processed junk soul food for their mind. These are the brash and audacious amongst us who have the audacity to clothe the Emmpero in imaginary rich vestments. We all geegaw, oooh and aaah, admiring the non-existent rich clothes until the innocent child walks by and speaks the honest truth: “The Emperor has no clothes on…”.

The film is about the meaning of life (I think). A suicidal man drives around trying to get someone to bury him after he commits suicide. Incessant driving around a dusty and deserted hilly terrain is interspersed with tiresome dialogue where he seemingly tries to proposition other men by offering them money to “do a little something” for him. The director thinks he has achieved a major coup when he reveals to us the man is looking of someone to bury him when he is dead. First the man tries to get a quarry worker to help him, but the man threatens to hit him (these are the working classes, and the refusal is meant to represent that work is not that which keeps alive). Next he meets a young soldier who also refuses the promise of money on completion of the interment (this meant to signify the strength of the armed forces and how they don’t hold the answer of existence). Next comes a seminarian (who represents religion and this too fails to answer the key question). Finally a man who works in a natural history museum agrees to help the man, but all the while tries to discourage him by telling him that the taste of cherry is worth remaining alive for. This is nature and nature alone holds the key to our existence and has the power to preserve our life.

Really tedious stuff, said before, filmed before, written about before and so much better than this. We felt so cheated by this film, especially by the ending (if you think what I described is bad, just wait till you see the ending!). A waste of a precious 90 minutes of our lives. See this film at your peril. If you are an arthouse snob, it will make your day. If you are an ordinary person, an educated layperson, a thinking person, a well-read person, you will probably see through this artifice and join me in crying out: “It’s not silken ribbons, but rather strands of seaweed” Mr Kiarostami is trying to peddle to us.

I’ll rest my case with an interview with the director himself:

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