Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Taste of Cherry

Written, edited, and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Taste of Cherry is the story of a middle-aged man who has a death wish as he goes on a search through Tehran for someone to bury him. The 1997 Palme D’or co-winner has Kiarostami going for a minimalist style in order to follow a man who is ready to die in his search to help reach death. Starring Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari, and Safar Ali Moradi. Taste of Cherry is an extraordinary film from Abbas Kiarostami.

Mr. Badii (Homayon Ershadi) is driving around Tehran looking for someone who is willing to bury him as he plans to kill himself. During his drive, he comes across a young yet shy Kurdish soldier (Safar Ali Moradi) who is set to take a brief leave from his training. The two converse about their experiences as soldiers as Mr. Badii takes him to the mountains where he explains to the young man what he wants to do. The soldier refuses as Mr. Badii continues to drive as he meets an Afghani security guard (Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari) who is working as Badii learns that the guard has a friend (Mir Hossein Noori) who is visiting him working as a seminarist.

Badii takes the seminarist for a drive around the mountain as the two talk about what Badii wants to do with seminarist thinks about it. After driving around, an old taxidermist (Abdolrahman Bagheri) is picked up who learns about what Badii does as he tells a story about his own experiences. Badii becomes confused as he ponders what to do for what could be his last day.

The film’s plot about a man driving around Tehran and its mountains to find someone to bury him doesn’t seem like an interesting premise. Yet, Abbas Kiarostami manages to create a film where he follows this man during an entire day of what could be the last day of his life as he looks for someone to bury him after he dies. During this journey, he meets three different men along the way as each are disturbed by is request with all three having different reactions. Not surprisingly, the young Kurdish soldier is unable to do it though the seminarist and taxidermist that Mr. Badii meets both provide interesting responses. The seminarist, who is a religious man, goes into a bit of a debate about Mr. Badii’s intended actions while the taxidermist has a much broader view of things that only confuses Badii towards the end.

During the entirety of the story, there is nothing about Mr. Badii himself as the passengers he takes in wondering why does he want to kill himself? Yet, the answer is never revealed nor anything about his life as he offers a substantial amount of money for someone to do the job. Mr. Badii remains a mystery throughout the film as he is a man just seeking someone to give him a burial as he’s already dug a hole somewhere in the mountains. That’s all there is need to know as a back-story would end up either give the viewer something to feel as Kiarostami prefers to leave it wide open.

The lack of conventional script does allow Kiarostami to maintain a simple yet controlled approach to his direction in the way he follows Mr. Badii’s journey towards death. The film starts off with Badii driving around Tehran as he tries to find people where he comes across a few laborers and eventually to the young soldier. The direction is very intimate in some aspects since it is partially set inside Mr. Badii’s Range Rover for about a third of the film. Yet, a lot of it does take place at the mountains where Kiarostami always shoots in the same locations at times for Mr. Badii to take the same route while going into different routes throughout his adventure.

The minimalist approach to Kiarostami’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for the long-shots he creates for many of the film’s hilly countryside as there’s a beauty to it that is indescribable. The direction also has a cinema verite style that is realistic except that it doesn’t look rough and grainy nor is presented in a hand-held camera style. It’s very controlled as it’s shot on a tripod or a steadicam as Kiarostami lets everything plays out that includes a scene where Mr. Badii’s Range Rover is stuck as he quickly gets help to get out of the hole his car is in.

For a film of this style, one would expect the pacing to be slow but Kiarostami doesn’t do that as he knows that a style like this could be frustrating for viewers. While there’s a lot of small scenes where there’s a lot of unbroken takes and shots where it’s just a car driving while dialogue is heard. Kiarostami knows when to maintain a certain rhythm as he edits the film in a methodical yet leisured pace. The film’s ending does change things a bit where the fourth wall is broken while the look of it becomes very different. It comes across as abrupt but it emphasizes an act of subversion as Kiarostami prefers to leave things open. The overall film itself is truly engaging as Kiarostami creates what is truly a haunting yet hypnotic film.

Cinematographer Homayun Payvar does an amazing job with the film‘s gorgeous yet captivating photography. The look of the sunny yet autumn mountains during a late afternoon is truly exquisite as is Tehran itself as Pavar maintains the look throughout the entirety of the film including some wonderful nighttime scenes that adds to the eerie tone of the film. The sound design by Mohammed Reza Delpak is superb for the way sound is captured from the way the Range Rover is heard on the road to the cries of a dog near the site that Mr. Badii plans to die in. Deplak also keeps it realistic as there is no film score heard except for a song played on the radio and Louis Armstrong’s St. James Infirmary that’s played in the final credits of the film.

The casting is brilliant as it includes a notable performance from Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari as a security guard that Mr. Badii briefly talks to as well as Mir Hossein Noori in an excellent role as a religious seminarist who is baffled by what Mr. Badii wants to do. Safar Ali Moradi is really good as a shy, Kurdish soldier who is very disturbed by what Mr. Badii wants to do while Abdolrahman Bagheri is great as the taxidermist who provides his own insights about the world and death. Finally, there’s Homayon Ershadi in a phenomenal performance as Mr. Baadi. Ershadi’s calm yet understated performance as a man seeking to end his life is truly one of the most haunting performances captured on film as he is a man that just wants something done without any complications as Ershadi delivers in every moment that occurs in the film.

Taste of Cherry is a magnificent yet compelling film from Abbas Kiarostami that features a wonderful performance from Homayon Ershadi. Audiences that doesn’t know much about Iranian cinema or the works of Kiarostami will definitely see this as a worthy introduction. Particularly for a film that is set years after the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini at a time when Iran is starting to progress into the modern world. It is a film that offers not a lot of necessary back story or expositions but rather as a minimalist exercise to keep things simple and to the point. In the end, Taste of Cherry is a mesmerizing film from Abbas Kiarostami.

Abbas Kiarostami Films: (The Experience) - The Traveler - (A Wedding Suit) - The Report - (First Case, Second Case) - (Fellow Citizens) - (First Graders) - Where is the Friend’s House? - Homework (1989 film) - Close-Up - Life and Nothing More… - Through the Olive Trees - (The Wind Will Carry Us) - (ABC Africa) - (Ten) - (Five) - (10 on Ten) - (Shirin) - Certified Copy - Like Someone in Love - 24 Frames

© thevoid99 2011

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