Abbas Kiarostami’s films often have an angle or a slant to them that makes the surface level of the film somewhat questionable and confusing. From his recreation/documentation of real life events in Close-Up to the questions of art and life of Certified Copy that then fold back into the film, Kiarostami’s films are often seeped in grander intellectual tinkering.
However, after seeing Taste of Cherry, it’s important to remember that Kiarostami is also a strong storyteller. Even though it’s the provoking intellectualism that have many mulling over him as an artist, he still makes solid, engaging stories that are enamoring on the simple level of characters, plots and reveals.
This film is often described as an hour and a half of driving around and while that is a large part of it, Kiarostami makes it a fascinating drive. The driver, Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), is traveling around town looking for someone to do a job for him, but due to the fact he won’t tell anyone what the job is, only the suspiciously high pay, people are suspicious and reluctant of what this job might be.
Likewise, the audience spends much of the film wondering what this job could be. It’s a question that drives most of the film and Kiarostami uses the answer to fuel the rest of the film, as the answer comes with its own set of questions and mysteries. On this level alone, Kiarostami makes a suspenseful and engaging film that always has just one more nagging question keeping the audience curious.
The backdrop of the film adds some texture and depth to these issues and questions. Driving through these dirt roads in Iran, Mr. Badii comes across different characters that give just a taste of the climate and the culture of the times, a sense of a broader world that positions Mr. Badii’s mystery and, in some ways, may be some of the reasons and conditions of Mr. Badii’s job.
This also proves as a compelling aesthetic setting. Cinematographer Homayun Payvar captures the harsh, tumultuous landscape that informs the rugged desolation of the story. However, as the film evolves and the story grows, the film begins to find beauty and life in this landscape. It’s not looking for beauty where it wasn’t before, but absorbing and lingering over the things the film passed by before.
The closing moments of the film are Kiarostami all over. For the intellectual fans, it’s the kind of out of left-field ending that will keep them speculating and mulling over his films long after the credits roll. Honestly, its fault might be that the ending doesn’t necessarily have a direct correlation to the events on screen, which might be the point Kiarostami is making.
Regardless, Taste of Cherry works as a strong, involving story which is influenced and informed by the strong filmmaking behind it. The core questions that the film keeps feeding make what sounds like a dully film perpetually engaging, constantly pumping the imagination. A should be expected from Kiarostami it’s surprising and audacious in the best possible way.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing