Essential Abbas Kiarostami Films You Need To Watch
The Traveler (1974)
Kiarostami’s first feature film pays homage to neo-realism and Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows (1959). The Traveler narrates the story of Qassem Julayi (Hassan Darabi), a wayward teenager who is in love with soccer, and his dream is to watch a match at the Amjadie stadium in Tehran. To accomplish his goal, he steals money and tries to sell a secondhand watch and a broken camera.
Pretending to take photos of his classmates, he also deceives and receives money from them. Toward the end, he sells his soccer ball and portable soccer goals. After a long day of making enough money, he goes to Tehran, and when he reaches the stadium, he is exhausted and falls asleep; when he wakes up, he discovers that the match is finished, and he is alone in the stadium.
Like any debut feature, the movie has some flaws. For instance, some scenes lack the necessary linking shots. In the scene when Qassem enters the classroom, for instance, the cameraman simply can’t place him in the frame, so the audience hears sound of a door then sees a sharp cut, and suddenly Qasem is behind his desk. Moreover, there is stylistic inconsistency; the director uses dramatic music in “exciting” scenes, which contrasts the film’s overall realistic/documentary style.
Nevertheless, these examples are all elements of the future “Kiarostami” style, which emphasizes realism; documentary and photography style; children as main characters; ignorant adults; thin plot line; and lonely protagonists. The Traveler may not be a perfect film, but after watching it, one will certainly know the director has a promising future.
Best Scene: The audience will never forget the whole sequence when Qassem deceives his classmates and pretends to take their picture.
The Report (1977)
The Report focuses on how losing one’s job can affect a man’s behavior and lead to detrimental actions, like suicide. The man, in the final scene, makes the decision to leave his wife and child behind—not because he is a loser, but because he thinks his absence is the only way they may have a future.
The Report is the most interesting film of Kiarostami’s career. Though the film is a domestic melodrama, the main characters are not children. The actors are professional, the story line is well developed, and generally one will not notice any technical flaws. Movies that Kiarostami shot before and after The Report always consist of scenes that people assume the camera shakes or the viewer believes some connecting shots are missing.
Best Scene: The scene in which the man goes to a diner. While waiting for his sandwich, the man listens to drunken people discussing important, philosophical and existentialist issues.
Where Is the Friend’s Home? is a pivotal point in Kiarostami’s career; it is a movie fans can call Kiarostamiesque. The film is the first safe destination of Kiarostami’s long journey to find a unique cinematic language that is both poetical and realistic. The film’s Iranian title derives from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri, an Iranian poet who is well-known for his love of nature and village life. Sepehri, who is also a painter, has greatly influenced Kiarostami’s films (In fact, Kiarostami’s photos contains Sepehri’s signature brush strokes.) Where Is the Friend’s Home? tackles the same morality questions that occupied Sepehri’s mind for years.
In this film, Kiarostami demonstrates the innocence of children and the morality of the villagers. In his long journey to find his classmate, Ahmed (Babek Ahmed Poor) understands how cruel and ignorant an adult’s world is. In the midst of the narrative, Kiarostami elevates some of his unique stylistic elements: balanced combination of documentary and fiction (docu-fiction), rare usage of music, and sparse plot line.
Where Is the Friend’s Home? is such an honest and crafty movie about being a young adult. Kiarostami was only forty-seven when he filmed this movie which earned him international recognition. During Locarno International Film Festival in 1989, the director was awarded the Bronze Leopard, the FIPRESCI prize (special mention), and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. The film deservedly entered BFI list of the “50 films you should see by the age of 14.”
Best Scene: Almost the whole movie; the final scene is key when Ahmed returns his classmate’s notebook to show the child that Ahmed finished the friend’s homework.
Kiarostami has always been interested in documentaries and presenting reality in cinema. Therefore, Close-Up, which refers to a cinematic technique, is a movie about the power of cinema. It is not surprising to know that the director wrote the script of Close-Up based on a news story about a man who impersonates famous Iranian film director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
Another delicately balanced docu-fiction, the audience views both Makhmalbaf and the impersonator (Hamid Sabzian). As the movie moves forward, the audience learns that the impersonator doesn’t introduce himself as Makhmalbaf for financial reasons; he loves cinema and enjoys being called Makhmalbaf.
Close-Up helped increase Kiarostami’s international recognition—it was awarded Quebec Film Critics Award at the Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and Video and FIPRESCI Prize at the International Istanbul Film Festival. In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll, it was voted, by critics, as one of “The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.”
Best Scene: There is a long, memorable scene in which two main characters of the movie pass different streets on a motorcycle.
The follow-up film to Taste of Cherry (1997) is The Wind Will Carry Us, which also addresses life and death. It is not surprising that death obsessively consumed Kiarostami’s mind ever since he was fifty-nine (see The Wind Will Carry Us).
The title stems from a poem, written by the most important female poet of Iran, Forough Farrokhzadl, the film references Omar Khayyam’s poems as well. Khayyam’s poems are usually about seizing the moment; the film’s references to Khayyam’s pieces create a comedic effect for the film, especially when the journalists are waiting for the old woman’s death!
The movie was very successful in festivals and among critics—at the Venice Film Festival, the movie was nominated for the Golden Lion and won the Grand Special Jury Prize (Silver Lion), the FIPRESCI Prize, and the CinemAvvenire award.
Actor J. Hoberman explains the film exquisitely: “It’s part of the movie’s formal brilliance that, suddenly, during its final 10 minutes, too much seems to be happening. The Wind Will Carry Us is a film about nothing and everything—life, death, the quality of light on dusty hills.”