(Taste of Cherry)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Production: Abbas Kiarostami Productions, CiBy 2000 (France); color, 35mm; running time: 99 minutes in UK, 96 minutes in Argentina, and 95 minutes in Iran and USA. First released 10 October 1997, Italy; 20 March 1998, USA. Language: Farsi with English subtitles. Filmed in Tehran and its outskirts.
Producer: Abbas Kiarostami; screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami; photography: Homayoon Payvar; assistant directors: Hassan Yekta Panah, Bahman Kiarostami; editor: Abbas Kiarostami; sound: Jahangir Mirshekari; art director: Hassan Yekta Panah; special effects: Asadollah Majidi; title design: Mehdi Samakar; assistant cameraman: Farshad Bashir Zadeh; sound assistant: Sassan Bagherpour; cameraman: Alireza Ansarian; mixer: Mohamadreza Delpak.
Cast: Homayoun Ershadi ( Mr. Badii ); Abdolhosein Bagheri ( Mr. Bagheri, taxidermist in Natural History Museum ); Afshin Khorshid Bakhtari ( soldier ); Safar Ali Moradi ( soldier from Kurdistan ); Mir Hossein Noori ( seminarian ); Ahmad Ansari ( guard in the tower ); Hamid Masoumi ( man in telephone booth ); Elham Imani ( woman near the museum ); Ahmad Jahangiri ( blacksmith ); Nasrolah Amini ( gravel pit worker ); Sepideh Askari, Davood Forouzanfar ( passengers in VW car ); Iraj Alidoost, Rahman Rezai, Hojatolah Sarkeshi ( museum ticket personnel ); Ali Noornajafi ( soldier from Ilam ); Kianoosh Zahedi Panah, Gholam Reza Farahani, Morteza Yazdani, Moghadam, Ali Reza Abdollah Nejad, Akbar Khorasani, Hossain Mehdikhah, Ghorban Cheraghi, Ali Akbar Torabi, Seyed Mehdi Mirhashemi, Amir Reza Zendeh Ali, Abootaleb Moradi ( soldiers from Tehran ); Mehdi Bastami ( soldier from Shahrood ); Mohamad Aziz Ghasaei ( soldier from Hast-par ); Karim Rostami ( soldier from Khalkhal ); Kambiz Baradaran, Valliolah Halzaei ( soldiers from Kermanshah ); Ali Ghanbari, Jalal Ghafari, Ahmad Jozie, Ali Asghar Seyedi ( soldiers from Hamedan ); Ali Reza Bayat ( soldier from Toysarkaran ); Klanoosh Yooshan-Lou ( soldier from Bandar Anzali ); Ali Tabee Ahamadi ( soldier from Ahwaz ); Jamshid Torabi, Gholam Reza Fattahi ( soldiers from Karaj ); Ali Akbar Abbasi ( soldier from Qom ); Rahim Imanie ( soldier from Ardabil ); Ali Mohammad Moravati ( soldier from Takab ); Ali Mohammad Rezaei, Mahmood Reza Edalati ( soldiers from Malayer ); Seyyed Javad Navabi ( soldier from Arak ).
Palme d'Or (shared with Shohei Imamura's
]), Cannes Film Festival, 1997; Best Foreign Language Film, Boston Society
of Film Critics, 1998; nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Chicago
Film Critics Association, 1999.
Cheshire, Godfrey, "Abbas Kiarostami: A Cinema of Questions," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 32, no. 4, July-August 1996.
Lopate, Phillip, "Kiarostami Close Up," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 32, no. 4, July-August 1996.
Hamid, Nassia, "Near and Far: Director Abbas Kiarostami Talks about Images from 'Through the Olive Trees' and His Career," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 2, February 1997.
Ditmars, Hadani, "Talking Too Much With Men: From Angels in Paris to Martyrs in Tehran, Hadani Ditmars on Iranian Directors and the Fajr Film Festival," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 4, April 1997.
Roddick, Nick, "Cannes Notes," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 7, July 1997.
Corliss, Mary, "Cannes at 50," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 33, no. 4, July-August 1997.
Lopate, Phillip, "New York," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 33, no. 6, November-December 1997.
Graffy, Julian, "A Taste of Cherry/Ta'ame-gilas," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 8, no. 6, June 1998.
Mulvey, Laura, "Kiarostami's Uncertainty Principle," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 8, no. 6, June 1998.
Interview with Abbas Kiarostami, in Friendly Persuasion , directed by Jamsheed Akrami, forthcoming.
* * *
Jean-Luc Godard reportedly said, "Cinema starts with Griffith and ends with Kiarostami." His admiration for the Iranian director, expressed when Abbas Kiarostami accepted the Palme d'Or for Taste of Cherry at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, is shared by many within the international film community. When Taste of Cherry gained world-wide attention by becoming the first Iranian film to win the top prize at Cannes, Kiarostami was introduced to a wider audience as one of the most original, thought-provoking artists of contemporary cinema. Taste of Cherry , Kiarostami's eloquent meditation on life and death, is a sublime masterpiece.
Like other Kiarostami films, the simple parable focuses on a journey. A seemingly affluent middle-aged man, Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), drives a white Range Rover around the hilly outskirts of Tehran in search of someone who will accept his job offer. He wants to hire a man for 200,000 tomans, the amount of money a soldier would receive for six months work. That person would accompany him to a predetermined grave site and return there the next morning to bury his dead body, if he succeeds in committing suicide, or to help him to his feet if he is still alive. His anguish is never explained. As Mr. Badii's car repeatedly loops along the narrow road, one wonders if he will choose the route to death or turn left and take the "longer but better and more beautiful" road towards the spirited city of Tehran. Is this the road to life?
The narrative piques the spectator's curiosity. Who is this brooding man and what does he want? The enigmatic protagonist approaches an assortment of ordinary people and invites each to take a ride with him: Afghans, Kurds, Turks, a young soldier, a security guard, an Islamic seminarian, and a museum employee. Mr. Badii very gradually reveals his suicidal intent—a taboo subject in the Islamic republic—to his passengers and to his audience. The impoverished Kurdish soldier bolts from the vehicle, the seminary student lectures on Muslim strictures against suicide, and the elderly museum taxidermist formulates a persuasive philosophical argument before agreeing to help him. Their reactions keep the arguments about life and death in perfect balance. To be or not to be? Taste of Cherry respectfully explores different points of view, raising questions rather than providing answers.
Despite its metaphysical concerns, the film is persistently earthbound. When Mr. Badii is in transit, the camera is largely confined to the car and close-ups of the driver and his passengers. Each has his own space, and the one-shots emphasize individual isolation. At other times the camera pulls back for long shots of soldiers marching through the parched countryside or of workers moving piles of red dirt with heavy equipment. Often taken from Mr. Badii's point of view, these shots connect him to the environment and the teeming vitality of earthly life. The powerful visual imagery, accompanied by the howling wind or punctuated by the wail of animals, presents the bleak but beautiful landscape as a place of social meaning, and, perhaps, a metaphor for the human condition.
Taste of Cherry is at once consistent with Kiarostami's previous work and a risky departure. Similar to And Life Goes On . . . (1992) and Through the Olive Trees (1994), a mythic quest leads to personal transformation. A minimal storyline, the use of structural repetition, and poetic images are Kiarostami trademarks. Working with a modest budget and under government control, the Iranian director managed to reinvent neorealism in the context of the art film. In the tradition of postwar Italian filmmakers, he coaxed strikingly natural performances from nonactors and shot on-location in and around Tehran. But Kiarostami's realist sensibilities, which foster comparisons between his work and Vittorio De Sica's humanist cinema, intersect with the grand themes, intellectual complexity, and formalist concerns associated with art cinema. The simplicity and spiritual intensity of Taste of Cherry recall the films of Ozu, Dreyer, and Bresson.
Kiarostami's cinema is highly self-reflexive, making excellent use of distanciation devices to remind viewers that they are "only" watching a film. In Where Is My Friend's House (1987) and Close-Up (1989), Kiarostami addresses the filmmaking process itself, making a distinction between the real world and the reconstructed reality of cinema. At the beginning of Through the Olive Trees , Kiarostami has an actor turn to the camera and say, "I am the man who is playing the director of this film" and in And Life Goes On . . . , the script girl interrupts a scene to hand an actor a glass of water. So the film crew's appearance at the end of Taste of Cherry is more than the director's whim. This reminder about the movie's artifice encourages audiences to think about the film's open ending and to confront the intellectual issues on their terms. As Kiarostami stated in a February 1997 Sight and Sound interview, "The filmmaker can only raise questions, and it is the audience who should seek the answer, should have the opportunity for reflection . . . to complete the unfinished part of a work. So there are as many different versions of the same film as there are members of a given audience."
Only one interpretation, however, can be inferred from the tossedoff remark that provides the film's title. Before the taxidermist of the Natural History Museum agrees to assist Mr. Badii, he tells of his own suicide attempt. Years ago he had thrown a rope over a mulberry tree with the intent of hanging himself. Suddenly he noticed the rising sun, the beauty of his surroundings, and the cries of children begging him to shake the tree so that they could eat the fallen mulberries. Simple pleasures—including the succulent berries—reclaimed his zest for life. Although the older man credits a mulberry for saving him, he asks Mr. Badii, "You want to give up the taste of cherries?" By refusing to reveal the answer, Abbas Kiarostami allows us to savor the sensuous and intellectual pleasures of his film.