September 6 - October 30
“Cinema is truth twenty-four frames per second.”—Jean-Luc Godard
“In cinema, by fabricating lies we may never reach the fundamental truth, but we will always be on our way to it. We can never get close to the truth except through lying.”—Abbas Kiarostami
"Film begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami.”—Jean-Luc Godard
From September 6 through October 30, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents the retrospective Abbas Kiarostami, a series that encompasses a total of thirty-two films, the largest selection of the work of this major Iranian director yet available in North America. Most titles are presented in new digital restorations, thanks to the Criterion Collection and mk2. Included are twenty-two full-length and short features, and ten shorts. Early short features including EXPERIENCE, FELLOW CITIZEN, and FIRST GRADERS are exceedingly rare, while a number of the shorts were only recently rediscovered and restored. The October portion of the series is predominantly devoted to later work.
In a filmmaking career that extended from THE BREAD AND ALLEY, his first short in 1970, to 24 FRAMES, his final feature, completed and released following his untimely 2016 death, Kiarostami’s career blazed with the creativity of a true innovator. Born in Tehran in 1940, and exhibiting an early interest in the arts, he earned a degree in painting at Tehran University. Throughout his life, he was to apply his wide-ranging talents to poetry, photography, installation art, and design, all of which fed into his career in cinema.
Using the most minimal of narrative methods and many non-professional actors, Kiarostami frequently lays bare the artifice behind the fiction, creating films within films in complex and layered stories that grapple with issues at the very heart of human existence. His protagonists are often motivated by quests, as in WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, or engaged in journeys, as in AND LIFE GOES ON, with the journey itself becoming the end goal. Kiarostami’s own quest was for an emotional and societal truth that could not be attained through realism alone. Is he a realist or a master illusionist? His modus operandi is to tease a greater and more accurate reality from the facts through fiction.
The Palme d’Or that Kiarostami was awarded for A TASTE OF CHERRY at Cannes in 1997 confirmed what scores of critics had already discerned: that this was a master of his medium working at the height of his powers. As he moved increasingly in an international sphere, gaining a wide international audience, Kiarostami nurtured the Persian roots of his work while delving ever deeper into experimentation with self-reflexive narrative, illusion, and cinematic sleight of hand, never losing his compassionate eye on the vagaries of life.
Women gained a new ascendency in his work, as did themes of emotional resonance, in films including TEN, CERTIFIED COPY, and LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE. In these films, relationships are most often based on illusion, and communications between men and women are governed by slippery trade-offs, compromises, and half-truths. By contrast, SHIRIN is a stirring portrait of womankind through the faces of 113 actresses.
In his later work, Kiarostami’s methods evolved with changing technology, and he brought an artist’s boundless curiosity to the transition to digital filmmaking. In digital technology he found the perfect tools for altering images to his idealized vision, in films including FIVE (FOR OZU) and 24 FRAMES. Manipulating, altering, and creating seamless composite imagery, he found the means to arrive at truth through illusion.
For their assistance in preparing this retrospective, the Gene Siskel Film Center thanks: Brian Belovaric, Janus Films; Justin Di Pietro, IFC Films; Jonathan Rosenbaum; Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa; and Ehsan Khoshbakht.
SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT! Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Kiarostami film on any Saturday in August, September, or October, and get a ticket for the second Kiarostami film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)
1974, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 74 min. (Total show: 91 min.)
With Hasan Darabi
"His first masterpiece."—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Abbas Kiarostami
Kiarostami's first full-length feature expands on EXPERIENCE's theme of a disadvantaged boy doggedly pursuing his dream. An indifferent student and a disappointment to his nagging mother, Qasem is a soccer-crazy boy living in the provincial city of Malayer. Determined to attend a big soccer match in Tehran, he hustles, cheats, and steals to raise the necessary funds, then sneaks out to catch the overnight bus to the capitol. One of the director's personal favorites, THE TRAVELER shows the influence of Italian neorealism and the French New Wave, but with a more daring use of "dead time," most effectively in the boy's extended walks through the deserted nighttime streets of his hometown and, later, through the strange new world of Tehran.
Preceded by SO CAN I (1975, 5 min.), in which a schoolboy compares his abilities to the animals', and THE BREAD AND ALLEY (1970, 12 min.), Kiarostami's first film, about a boy intimidated by a stray dog. All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
Where is the Friend's House?
Khaneh-ye dust kojast?
1987, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 84 min.
With Babak Ahmadpour, Ahmad Ahmadpour
“As refreshing and exciting as discovering an Orson Welles or Jean Renoir film for the first time. He’s that good.”—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Set in the mountain village of Koker in northern Iran, WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE? is a tale of two boys and a problem. Eight-year-old Ahmad discovers that he has accidentally taken home the notebook of his friend, who risks expulsion if he comes to school without having done his homework. Refining a model of the narrative quest that resonates through Iranian cinema to this day, Kiarostami follows the boy in a frantic trek through a neighboring village in search of his friend’s home. In Ahmad’s small world, narrowly defined by his harried mother, his rigidly authoritarian teacher, and adult villagers dismissive of a child’s dilemma, the little boy becomes the film’s moral center as he earnestly pursues his mission undeterred. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
Tajrobeh / aka The Experience
1973, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 57 min. (Total show: 89 min.)
With Hassan Yar-Mohamadi
"Lyrical…one of the few remarkable portrayals of adolescent love in the entire history of Iranian cinema."—Ramin S. Khanjani, "Early Kiarostami: Poetry in Didacticism"
Scripted by fellow director Amir Naderi (THE RUNNER), EXPERIENCE centers on a lowly 14-year-old errand boy employed by a photography studio. His daily grind, detailed in terse, evocative episodes, is brightened when he seems to attract the interest of a girl from a higher class. This key early work already displays Kiarostami's distinctive uses of ellipsis, offscreen sound, and self-reflexivity—the latter expressed by the photography-studio setting and the extensive use of frames and windows.
Preceded by THE COLORS (1976, 16 min.), a playful catalogue of colors and the things that represent them, and BREAKTIME (1972, 16 min.), an errant schoolboy's adventure which Kiarostami called "my ideal film. This film is way ahead of TASTE OF CHERRY in terms of form, audacity, avoidance of story-telling, and indeterminate ending." All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
1989, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 78 min.
“A major film by the greatest of all Iranian filmmakers.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Presented as an exercise, a simple documentary inquiry into the problems presented by the after-hours work that children take home from school, HOMEWORK proves to be anything but. Little boys flock around the filmmaker in the street, excited at the prospect of appearing in a movie. The shadow of the Iran-Iraq war looms in the background, and the day begins with a schoolyard assembly in which teachers lead the children in warlike patriotic chants. Inside, the boys are interviewed one by one, variously shy, bold, frightened, merry, or sly. Through Kiarostami’s probing questions and sensitive portraiture, there emerges a touching disconnect between the innocence and helplessness of the kids and the film’s larger picture of an unforgiving system meant to mold them into unquestioning obedience. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
1990, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 98 min.
With Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf
“The meanings of CLOSE-UP shift subtly and profoundly with every viewing—the only certainty is that its rewards are boundless.”—Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
“A brilliant mix of contrivance, intimacy, distance, and dramatic closure peered into like a voyeur.”—Sean Axmaker, Parallax View
An unemployed printer passes himself off to a well-to-do woman on a bus as the Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. She and her gullible family are all too willing to believe that the famous director of THE CYCLIST wants to shoot his next movie at their home, starring their engineer son. This real-life story begins only with the arrest of the pathetic imposter, as Kiarostami plays masterfully with the interface between reenacted reality and fiction. A trial ensues, and the family saves face by claiming to have recognized the ruse all along, as they led the imposter ever deeper into his scheme. Truth becomes a flimsy construct slipping between verifiable fact and intention, and between bluff and heart-rending fantasy. All characters play themselves in a multi-layered reconstruction that draws the audience into a new perception of the unfolding events. In Persian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
1984, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 84 min.
Ostensibly taking place within a single day at a Tehran primary school, Kiarostami's first documentary feature is usually regarded as a predecessor of his later treatment of schoolboys-on-the-spot, HOMEWORK. Except for a brief lyrical interlude involving a bike ride through the city, the film is divided into two spaces, the courtyard and the headmaster's office. The courtyard presents the boys en masse, lining up and performing calisthenics. Juvenile mischief often eludes the orderly discipline represented by the courtyard, and those miscreants are brought before the headmaster, a mostly offscreen presence who metes out justice to the boys squirming under the camera's gaze. Given the political situation of the time, FIRST GRADERS is sometimes interpreted as a commentary on authoritarianism, although the film's view of the headmaster is characteristically ambivalent, even admiring. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (MR)
And Life Goes On
...Va zendengi edameh darad
1992, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 96 min.
With Farhad Kheradmand, Puya Pievar
“[A] scintillating collision between straightforward documentary, naturalistic fiction, and historical fable.”—Jesse Cataldo, Spectrum Culture
In the aftermath of northern Iran’s horrific 1990 earthquake, a film director (Kheradmand, a fictional stand-in for Kiarostami), accompanied by his young son, sets out by car to find the two boys featured in WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE? The search for survivors and the process of digging out dominates this corner of the world, and the boys’ remote village of Koker is said to be inaccessible and totally destroyed. Across the rugged landscape split by random fissures in the earth and resonating with the grief of thousands of fatalities, father and son encounter humanity in its most elemental survival mode. Although the film appears to be largely a documentary, Kiarostami gradually reveals the fiction that serves as the framework for this powerful picture of hope, humor, determination, and acceptance among those fated to live. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
1983, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 52 min. (Total show: 88 min.)
“One of the most exciting experiments of Kiarostami's career."—Alberto Elena, The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami
Kiarostami's own youthful employment as a traffic cop informs this short documentary feature. Filmed in tight, telephoto close shots, it centers on a single policeman who is attempting to enforce a regulation restricting traffic in the center of Tehran. As he arbitrates an endless barrage of excuses and exhortations from the city's notoriously anarchic drivers, the policeman becomes a tragicomic antihero struggling to maintain order ("You must respect the plan!" he keeps saying) in the face of a steady stream of chaos.
Preceded by THE CHORUS (1982, 18 min.), a post-Revolution political allegory centering on an old man who turns off his hearing aid to escape the noise around him, and ORDERLY OR DISORDERLY (1981, 18 min.), a variation on FELLOW CITIZEN's theme of order vs. chaos that "inaugurated the audacious irony and reverberant symbolism that would become Kiarostami's mode of creation for the rest of his career" (Richard Brody, The New Yorker). All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
Through the Olive Trees
Zir-e derakhtan-e zeytun
1994, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 104 min.
With Mohammad-Ali Keshavarz, Hossein Rezai, Tahareh Ladanian
“Mesmerizingly beautiful.”—John A. Nesbitt, Old School Reviews
"The final shot is one of the best you’ll ever see.”—Jon Popick, Planet S Magazine
The villagers of the rugged mountain region devastated by the 1990 earthquake still struggle to reconstruct their lives and homes as Kiarostami returns to the location of AND LIFE GOES ON two years later. The actor who plays the director turns to the camera to describe his role in this film-within-a-film, then steps into character to take up the story. Tahareh, a headstrong local girl, is unhappily cast in a role opposite Hossein, her rejected suitor. The pairing proves the production’s headache when the young man persists in a stalker-like courtship. The filmmaking process itself is at the center of the film, and Kiarostami periodically peels back layers of artifice in the course of seamlessly blending fiction with the illusion of documentary. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
A Wedding Suit
Lebasi Baray-e Arusi / aka A Suit for the Wedding
1976, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 60 min. (Total show: 84 min.)
With Mohammad Fazih Motaleb, Massud Zand Begleh, Mehdi Nekui
Plottier than usual for Kiarostami, A WEDDING SUIT is a comedy with a bitter undertone of class and age divisions. It marks a return to the shop-boy world of EXPERIENCE, but this time with three young protagonists. Ali is an assistant in a tailor shop; his pals Hossein and Mamad both want to borrow a suit that has recently been made there for an upper-class boy. The puzzles posed by the plot are: Which boy will get the coveted garment? What is the purpose he intends to use it for? And will it be returned to the shop before its absence is noticed?
Preceded by TWO SOLUTIONS FOR ONE PROBLEM (1975, 6 min.), a cheeky moral lesson described by Jonathan Rosenbaum as "Laurel & Hardy directed by Robert Bresson;" and HOW TO MAKE USE OF LEISURE TIME: PAINTING (1977, 18 min.), in which two boys refurbish a door. All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)