What is the best introduction to Abbas Kiarostami films?

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.

Comments

Not sure he would appreciate being lumped along with the ayatollah under "they."

The Iranian leadership are violent primitives. Many millions of Iranians are decent people.

Which is why I can't understand this eagerness to make nice with the fanatics while there's apparently no effort to undermine them.

that sentence was, um...satire on us...

So, this is still the best self-recommending satire site on the web, right?

Neither has had Iran between 1979 and today. Neither bin Laden nor Saddam had nukes (the young Kim, bin-Laden's friend (ours, too) ISI and Israel have-evidently, Israel having the Bomb is a victory of non-proliferation in the Middle East). Can you tell me again which one is the good fanatical barbaric human rights-denying terrorism-sponsoring regime (have you seen all those comments about how Iran sponsors terrorism and is ruled by fanatics?) and which one is the evil one, please? I know we must "make nice" with a terrorist regime, but I can't remember which one is the good one.

I know satire, it's been a good friend of mine. That was not obviously satire.

"Which is why I can’t understand this eagerness to make nice with the fanatics while there’s apparently no effort to undermine them."
I know, right?
http://www.resourcesforlife.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/20150119tu-Diplomacy-US-President-George-W-Bush-holds-hand-with-king-saudi-arabia-6446422.jpg

Saudi Arabia had nukes? Well, maybe you're too soon. They will want them once Iran has them.

Neither has had Iran between 1979 and today. Neither bin Laden nor Saddam had nukes (the young Kim, bin-Laden's friend (ours, too) ISI and Israel have-evidently, Israel having the Bomb is a victory of non-proliferation in the Middle East and doesn't make other countries to want the Bomb). Can you tell me again which one is the good fanatical barbaric human rights-denying terrorism-sponsoring regime (have you seen all those comments about how Iran sponsors terrorism and is ruled by fanatics?) and which one is the evil one, please? I know we must "make nice" with a terrorist regime, but I can't remember which one is the good one.

Add - "The Wind Will Carry US" Subtract "Certified Copy"

Agreed. Certified Copy fails. Original but inauthentic. The Wind Will Carry Us is his masterpiece.

Secret Ballot by Babak Payami is very good too. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0290823/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

And of course many films by Majid Majidi

I like Kiarostami. For you people feeling adventurous enough to explore a more conservative iranian flavour I recomend Majid Majidi's films. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majid_Majidi
Baran (!!)
Father (!!!)
The Color of Paradise (!!!!)

"If we are going to have a nuclear agreement with them, we might as well eat their food and watch their movies." Are you including Russia in that sentiment?

Don't worry - George Bush the Younger cancelled the ABM treaty with Russia, leading to Putin nullifying START II.

As it stands now, all the succeeding nuclear arms treaties between the U.S. and the Russian Federation are mostly notable for not actually having anything that one could call an effective enforcement mechanism.

He didn't have to cancel. A treaty with a entity that no longer exists does not have an effective enforcement mechanism either.

'Separation' is good for rapidly disabusing anyone that Iran is some poor 3rd world entity.

And equally good at showing how a story without resolution can be based in intractable situations which do not reflect Western values or legal frameworks. No one is the villain or the hero - the characters are all people merely doing their best, in the face of random circumstance.

'A separation' is one if my favorite movies this century. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a very entertaining movie that will show you more of what life is like in contemporary Tehran than a years worth of watching bbc/cnn/news of your choice.

Yes, we poor benighted Westerners (with the US a particularly egregious offender) can't even hope to appreciate these subtleties. Please guide us p.a.

Sure - it begins with Iranian ideas about familial obligation to one's elders and Islamic (Iranian/Shiite) frameworks concerning legal divorce, mixed into a conflict involving Iranian law/emigration and familial obligation to the young. Then it gets more complicated, involving a murder charge due to a miscarriage, debts and blood money, mixed motives, oaths involving the Koran and what that means for one's children, and the desire to be honorable when dealing with one's associates and family. The decision of the daughter whether to emigrate with her mother or remain in Iran with her father is left open at the end.

Maybe you should watch the movie? It really is quite good. And also an Academy Award winner in 2012.

Here is the wikipedia link - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Separation

Is it really so strange to think that a movie made in another language and country would reflect that society?

Why assume I haven't seen it? "The Past" is excellent as well.

Perhaps better stated "intractable situations which do not reflect Islamic values or legal frameworks" Perhaps you missed that. Kiarostami is much more subversive.

'Why assume I haven’t seen it?'

Because you wrote this - 'Please guide us p.a.' - as if you had no idea what the movie was about.

'Kiarostami is much more subversive.'

I'm curious - what makes a film firmly anchored in fairly current Iranian experience 'subversive?' Iranians have been leaving Iran for a better future under a different regime since the time of the Shah, at least (Khomeini spent 14 years in exile, for example), and whether it is approved by the representatives of the Peacock Throne or the mullahs, the decision to settle elsewhere has been a constant of Iranian experience since the West decided to replace Mosaddegh. Whether it was an Iranian named Sadie I worked with at GMU in the late 1970s, or Shadan in the mid-80s (I'm sure you can guess which one had pictures of herself with open hair, and which one didn't, right?).

But maybe you misread what I actually wrote - 'which do not reflect Western values or legal frameworks' when writing '“intractable situations which do not reflect Islamic values or legal frameworks”'? Kiarostami is not a Western filmmaker - though you seem to be aware of this, apparently.

How do you write a post on Kiarostami and not even mention Close-Up? A pretty solid guide, though.

Exactly. Watch this too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1hXrqVvE_0

Anyone watching Close Up should watch some Mohsen Makhmalbaf first. The Cyclist is an obvious choice, though my favourite so far is A Moment of Innocence. [The summary of the critical reaction here is pretty funny: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Moment_of_Innocence]

Also, shouts out for Crimson Gold (Panahi) and Mosafer (Kiarostami).

So happy to read this post this morning. Kiarostami is a genius, full stop. Don't forget Close-Up: http://www.criterion.com/films/1092-close-up

Also of note: http://www.cinephiliabeyond.org/abbas-kiarostami-meets-akira-kurosawa/

Roger Ebert thought Ten (along with Taste of Cherry) was an inaccessible "minimalist exercise in style", and recommended Tahmineh Milani & Jafar Panahi instead. Taste of Cherry was the first Iranian movie I watched, and I didn't find it that inaccessible (although the shift at the end is rather needless). I suppose it was more like a gateway drug to other Iranian films, whose lack of simple happy endings gel with me in a way that Indian movies don't.

Excellent comment, and agree about the end of "Taste." I think it was Kiarostami's inability to control that impulse that makes Certified Copy unwatchable. Playing to much to the Jonathan Rosenbaum crowd, rather than the cash customers.

I disagree about Certified Copy being unwatchable. If you only saw the first part of the movie it would be nothing special, but certainly not unwatchable. And even if one dislikes (as Ebert did) that the movie appears to be "playing with us" by taking fakery too seriously in the latter half, it manages to be a fine movie nevertheless. Just have Juliette Binoche acting, don't screw things up too much, and the product will not be unwatchable. The comment about cash customers seems a bit odd, since he doesn't set out to make popcorn populist movies and it's not too much of a departure from his other work (just not set in Iran).

I'm sure there are layers of Straussianism beneath this post, but now that we have a nuclear agreement, I think it is essential not to do anything to build up understanding or sympathy for them. When they renege in some way -- which they will -- and if things get bad, I hope that we will have the primitive desire to treat them as an alien Other without empathy or understanding. Otherwise, this will be seen as Chamberlain, Part one.

Have to disagree on Taste of Cherry. It was the first Kiarostami film I saw, the only one I've been able to view in a theater, and it remains my favorite for the depth of the story married to the relative simplicity of the narrative offered by the photography (dirt, dust, and sand seldom display such beauty in film). More closely than any other film (of AK's or anyone else's) that comes to mind without more coffee, in this film Kiarostami reminded me of Bresson: certainly, Taste of Cherry conforms to this apothegm from Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer: "Someone who can work with the minimum can work with the most. One who can with the most cannot, inevitably, with the minimum" (Le Clezio tr.), in other regards, as well.

Where can you find his older films, short of buying them on DVD?

I'd give you a number of links, but this comment section filters them automatically. Much like it used to filter any link to the New Yorker.

"Jonathan Rosenbaum called Kiarostami the greatest living filmmaker..."

Understandably meant to be provocative and to garner some merited attention to Kiarostami in the US, but let's acknowledge who is still alive and still making feature films in the world. There were other ways to word a very strong claim for Kiarostami that would have passed a giggle test.

And in Iran he is not even regarded in the top 10 living ones apparently, given the other directors of top 10 films that I posted are probably all alive.

My first introduction to Iranian films was from director Hossein Panahi and his White Balloon
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112445/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

"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."

That sounds like Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth.

I guess that these Iran posts are a bellwether on what conversations we can expect to be seeing among the "new class": interest in their food, movies, fashion and soft-pedaling of fundamentally different attitudes, morals, and religion. Hipster tolerance for holocaust denial is probably on the way too.

No, a hard-line on Holocaust denial is the first of the Protocols of the Elders of Hipsterism.

Kiarostami is not regarded as the foremost Iranian film director. He does not have a single movie on the top 10 for Iranian films: http://notesoncinematograph.blogspot.com/2009/09/best-films-of-iranian-world-cinema.html

Top 10 Iranian films according to Iranian film critics:

1
The Deer (1976) Masud Kimiai

2
Bashu, the Little Stranger (1989) Bahram Beizai

3
Desiderium (1978) Ali Hatami

4
About Elly (2009) Asghar Farhadi

5
Hamoun (1990) Dariush Mehrjui

6
Strait (1973) Amir Naderi

7
The Cow (1969) Dariush Mehrjui

8
Captain Khorshid (1987) Naser Taghvai

9
Once Upon a Time, Cinema (1992) Mohsen Makhmalbaf

10
Tranquility in the Presence of Others (1973) Naser Taghvai
Kandu (1975) Fereydun Gole

Kiarostami is popular among European art house fans because his movies are very different from Hollywood stuff and very similar to European anti-hollywood stuff but the foremost Iranian films are more conventional plot driven films.

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