Abbas Kiarostami’s Palme D’or-winning feature Taste of Cherry plays on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, January 31. I profile the film for the TCM website.
Taste of Cherry confirmed Kiarostami as the most acclaimed director of Iran’s rich film culture, which was just getting seen by the rest of the world through such releases as Jafar Panahi’s 1995 The White Balloon (written by Kiarostami), Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven (1997) and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1996). But where these films (like the early works of Kiarostami) viewed the world through the eyes of children, Taste of Cherry was decidedly adult, serious and provocative. Islamic law prohibits suicide, which created difficulties with Iranian censors (Kiarostami reportedly edited the film at night, to avoid the prying eyes of officials), but it’s not really about death. It’s about life and reasons to live. Mr. Badii, driving circles through the barren hills, picks up three passengers through the course of his long day. The young Kurdish soldier flees in a panic at the request. An older seminary student, an Afghani, attempts to change his mind, reminding him of the Muslim strictures against suicide. Finally a Turkish taxidermist climbs into the passenger seat, a sympathetic man who shares his struggle with suicide but reluctantly agrees to help for reasons of his own. Through the course of this search, the dusty landscape and the age-etched face of Homayoun Ershadi become familiar, comforting, and finally riveting as he engages each of the strangers in conversations both discomforting and nakedly honest. In between the conversations are long silences and views of the world passing by outside the window, interspersed with magnificent long shots of the car winding through the hills, a tiny spot of color crawling along the asphalt strip through the rolling landscape, as the world continues on. In the distance we see soldiers drill, children run and bulldozers grind away at the hills, all unaffected by Badii’s crisis, yet as the light shifts from afternoon to evening (apart from the coda, the film takes place over a single day), it’s like the sun is setting on Badii’s soul.