It wasn’t until 2010 that I had any knowledge of Abbas Kiarostami. A filmmaker who came from a land that I only had stereotyped in my head from all of the western media I consume on a daily basis. Before this time I think the only thing I could tell you about Iran was that it was in the Middle-East — it is in the Middle East right? — they have oil and they somehow managed to get on America’s ‘shit’ list for having nuclear weapons.
Earlier this month, news broke of Kiarostami’s passing and the internet wept. I don’t like to make light of anyone’s passing, but there’s also a part of my brain that shrugs at every celebrity’s passing. While I mourn the loss of the artist and the potential joy they could bring me in the coming years, I know I don’t mourn the person. This is mainly because I never knew the person. I didn’t get to sit across the table from the man and debate why Ghostbusters was the best comedy of 2016 so far, or why the Panthers didn’t stick it in the Superbowl last year, or even why England can never seem to perform in an international tournament. I didn’t know him. All I knew was his art. Many would tell me that to some effect that is knowing him. I wouldn’t dispute that line of thought, because I mostly agree with it, but at the same time I refuse to assume it as a carpet truth about artists.
I digress again.
I wanted to spend a minute discussing the work of Kiarostami, the little I know of it.
In the last six years Kiarostami has cemented himself as one of my all time favourite filmmakers. This is surprising as at this moment in time I’ve only seen less than 14% of the films he’s directed; that’s only 6 in total. I plan on remedying that number as the years go on, but it’s true. He’s introduced me to a whole new brand of cinema that I could’ve never known existed before. He broke any and all preconceptions that I had about the country of Iran. He also gave me some of the most gorgeous moments in movies in the last six years. He gave me moments like watching a woman be revealed to me as being a man’s wife in a small shop in Italy, to a man asking anyone he can find to cover his body after he kills himself that night, then to a man being able to meet that man he impersonated because he idolized him. These are all moments that hold profound meaning to me now and it’s hard for me to know that the man who brought these moments to life on screen for me will no longer be able to do that anymore.
Kiarostami also opened my eyes to a whole new nation of cinema. With me diving into the works of Jafar Panahi and Asghar Farhadi. I promise to watch a Mohsen Makhmalbaf film soon, I promise. With this I’ve found a whole new list of films and filmmakers with whom I can grow with and try my best not to butcher their names when attempting to recommend them to people I meet discussing films of the time.
The night of the news of his passing I found myself curled on the couch watching a film of his that I’d been promising to watch for years now, Through the Olive Trees. This film is the third in his Koker Trilogy which has us rehashing a lot of the scenes of the previous film Life, and Nothing More… This time however, we are watching on as we follow the filming of the movie and a particular scene between a recently married husband and wife. These characters are played by a two people who are currently engaged in a romantic plot in the real world where-in he is asking for her hand in marriage and her grandmother will not allow it. She is unable to respond as to what she really wants, as this is not the common practice in Iran. We watch on and see as he tries to explain how it will be as he attempts to get her to say she wants to marry him. It ends in a long take with these characters far away from us. We watch him chase her down and we never hear what transpires. However, as we see him return we leave with an optimistic hope that she finally responded and he now has more ammunition and hope the next time he speaks with her grandmother.
Kiarostami’s films have always been hopeful films that make me happy for the world. No matter how many tragic things are within them. From a man contemplating suicide, a woman unable to meet her grandmother at the train station and being heartbroken, or someone travelling to the country to check if a small boy is safe after a devastating earthquake shook Iran; these films at their core make us hopeful for this world. This is important to note because as far the media has us feel Iran and Syria are probably the same country with all the same problems. These pictures and ideas of this country help create a more empathetic view of the nation that otherwise would be lost in a sea of CNN coverage that has us at a loss for hope.
I’ve always said that the first can have a profound effect on a person. We can talk about the first time you ate a certain food, the first time you made a friend, the first time you kissed someone or even the first time you found yourself opening your eyes so widely because you had to take it all in at that very moment. Kiarostami may not have been the first to do any of those things for me, but he definitely was a first in many other respects and I can’t help but sit here in awe knowing that there are a multitude of wonders awaiting me in the other 38 films of his I’ve yet to experience.
I may still not know anything really about Iran today. I’d like to think though that due to my exposure to their cinema I know at least 1% more about Iran than I did before I was introduced to the likes of Kiarostami.