Life and Nothing More: Commemorating Abbas Kiarostami
Photos Courtesy of Q-mars Haeri
I never thought that a sweaty September day in College Park would bring me back to a very different place, to the May sunlight streaming down upon the beaches of the south of France. I was in Cannes on the last day of the film festival this past year, the same day that Asghar Farhadi won the award for Best Screenplay and Shahab Hosseini won for Best Actor. Although nowadays it is generally accepted within the film community that Iran has one of the richest and most productive cinema cultures in the world, this was not the case in 1997, when Abbas Kiarostami won the Palme d’Or for his film The Taste of Cherry. Although Kiarostami was not the first, nor certainly the last, Iranian director, his work introduced the world to the Iranian cinema tradition. Of course, Abbas Kiarostami’s role in opening up Iranian cinema to a global audience does not diminish his own individual artistic brilliance, a brilliance that was celebrated and commemorated on that September day.
Many words were uttered during the tree planting ceremony, the screening of Maghsoudlou’s documentary, and the panel discussion, lamentations for his passing and laudations for his masterpieces in equal measure, but struck me most about the proceedings was the subtle symbolic artistry that permeated the event as it permeated Kiarostami’s films. A recurring motif throughout Kiarostami’s works (including his poetry and photography) is the image of the tree, so it seemed very fitted to plant a flowering cherry tree in his memory. There was something about the gentle falling of dirt on the tree that reminded me of The Taste of Cherry, something about the silhouette of the tree against the sky and the buildings of the university that recalls Where is the Friend’s Home? Kiarostami’s imagery was so quotidian, and yet so powerful, so imbued with symbolism.
For me, Kiarostami, like all great artists, achieved duende (to use the untranslatable and indefinable Spanish term). There was just something intangible in Kiarostami’s films that gave them a unique spirit and a sense of authenticity, a paradoxical sensation of both the real and the magic, the mundane and the extraordinary. That is why I think Kiarostami managed to break onto the global film stage at a time when Iranian cinema was little known; his films just had something to them which cannot be replicated (although many other Iranian directors have achieved their own duende). In short, we gathered on that September day to celebrate the life and works of Abbas Kiarostami, a highly influential artist and a true cinematic poet.