TASTE OF CHERRY
(1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
[I'm reposting this from my previous blog in light of the sad news this morning of the great filmmaker's passing. I wrote this five years ago when I was 18 and he's had a huge impact on how I looked at film, specifically in how he used the form in new ways. Rest in peace Mr Kiarostami.]
Abbas Kiarostami's film Taste of Cherry leaves us in a state of contemplation - not after the film's conclusion but during. Most movies show things happening and then we reflect upon the meaning of this later on. But here, Kiarostami neglects the 'happening' (the action, the story) and positions the entire film to make his audience think. He makes us think about life and death. Actually a more accurate word would be: appreciate. He makes us appreciate life and death.
Mr Badii (Homayon Ershadi) is looking for someone to bury him. He has decided to end his life. We are not provided with his motivations to do so but we need not look far for proof. We feel it from his face, a visage with no trace of cheerfulness.
The beauty of the film is in its respectful pacing. Kiarostami leaves room for contemplation, silence and thought. Even though Taste of Cherry explores the meaning of life and death, it is minimalist in its approach. Many films that try to encompass such an immeasurable subject matter with a broad, sweeping method do little to serve it. I can only think of Terrence Malick as the only filmmaker who has succeeded to tackle the subject in this manner.
The camera spends most of the duration time inside the car, switching back and forth from the driver's to the passenger's point of view. Like a therapist session, only with a more pleasant scenery outside the window. The colour palette is more or less the same. Warm, earthy and bursting with life, this is quite an achievement since the actual environment is desolate and the tone sober. With a restraint in visual style, a controlled sense of place, few key characters and minimal dialogue, Kiarostami lets the story breathe. Precisely what this kind of film needs.
While planning to end his life his encounters with people are the most significant. When one reaches the point when unhappiness can be quantified and suicide can be dangerously justified it is the contact from ordinary people - their soul, heart, pulse - that can hopefully breathe life into those who feel they are already dead. The people he encounters offers him tea, asks if he's sick, or simply talk with him. Simple gestures and lines that may seem trivial and banal towards an ordinary man living a content life. But when the receiver of these gestures and remarks is as sensitive and vulnerable as a suicidal man, then these small humanly motions could potentially save a life.
In one gloriously long, unbroken scene a taxidermist tries to discourage Mr Badii from doing the deed by telling him a story of how he too wanted to kill himself once but then decided not to. I do not want to spoil it here as it is one of the most mesmerising and moving scenes of all time. All I can say is, the taxidermist's story - in all its simplicity - simply shows the taste of life.
And it is sweet.