If we are going to have a nuclear agreement with them, we might as well eat their food and watch their movies. And Abbas Kiarostami is not only the premier Iranian director, he is a visionary with a major body of work and fans all over the world. But where to start? To the uninitiated, his movies seem like endless meandering and most of them have not received any U.S. release beyond New York and Los Angeles.
Here are my tips:
1. If you haven’t seen any Iranian movies before, go watch some others before trying Kiarostami. A Separation is sufficiently plot-rich to be a good place to start. Then return to this post.
2. Taste of Cherry is perhaps his best-known creation in the West, because it won the 1997 Cannes Palme D’Or. But, while it is a fine movie, it requires repeated viewings before it makes sense and anyway it is about death. It should not be one of the first three Kiarostami films you watch.
3. Ten is the best place to start. A woman drives around Teheran, taking on a changing variety of passengers, and the movie is structured around ten different conversations, all in the claustrophobic setting of the vehicle. That may not sound like much, but the viewer is gripped immediately. Could it be the best road movie ever made?
4. The charming Where is the Friend’s Home? is the most accessible of the early works. A child wants to return a friend’s notebook in a neighboring village and eventually it becomes magical. Here is from Wikipedia:
Jonathan Rosenbaum called Kiarostami the greatest living filmmaker and called the film (along with Through the Olive Trees and Life and Nothing More) “sustained meditations on singular landscapes and the way ordinary people live in them; obsessional quests that take on the contours of parables; concentrated inquiries that raise more questions than they answer; and comic as well as cosmic poems about dealing with personal and impersonal disaster. They’re about making discoveries and cherishing what’s in the world–including things that we can’t understand.”
5. There is no other movie in all of cinema like the brilliant Certified Copy, with Juliette Binoche (in French and English, not Farsi). For the first forty minutes or so, you think you are watching a stupid, cliched film, as if Kiarostami had sold out to reach the French art house audience. Eventually the narrative transforms into something quite different (I won’t spoil it for you) and you realize it was brilliant all along, not to mention a commentary on Vertigo. It is relatively briskly paced, but until you see the “trick” it does require some patience. You should all watch this one, especially if you are married, but you should not regard it as representative Kiarostami.
6. Shirin shows nothing other than the faces of Iranian women watching a theatrical production of a Persian mythological romance. I recommend this one for a very captivating fifteen minutes, but I am not sure you need more than that. It is also not representative Kiarostami. His Japanese movie “Like Someone in Love” showcases his versatility as well.
7. Once you like some of his movies, you will end up liking all of them. It just takes a while. And they all reward repeated viewings.