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.)
Taste of Cherry
1997, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France, 100 min.
With Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri
“Minimalist yet powerful and life-enhancing…this masterpiece has a powerful epilogue that radiates wonder and euphoria.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
“Exquisite…Kiarostami, like no other filmmaker, has a vision of human scale that is simultaneously epic and precisely miniscule.”—Stephen Holden, The New York Times
The profound intersection of life and death is the provocative mystery at the center of this masterwork in which the middle-aged intellectual Badii (Ershadi) seeks a volunteer to carry out his burial in the aftermath of his planned suicide. Badii takes his search to the twisting mountainous roads outside of Tehran, where prospective helpers include a young soldier, a security guard, and a refugee. In a series of vehicle-bound confrontations, philosophies collide, the rules of man meet the laws of nature, and life in all its elusive vibrancy paradoxically rules. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. In Persian with English subtitles. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (BS)
The Wind Will Carry Us
Baad mara khahas bord
1999, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 119 min.
With Behzad Dourani, Noghre Asadi
“Deeply, patiently observational…a mystery of ineffable beauty.”—Calum Marsh, Village Voice
Kiarostami followed his greatly acclaimed TASTE OF CHERRY with another film that considers deeply and simply the meaning of life. An engineer, head of a team that descends on a remote mountain village, devises a one-man rat race in the course of pursuing his mysterious mission. Barreling over rocky trails in his Jeep or talking self-importantly on his cell phone from the cemetery, the highest point in the village, he seems oblivious to the rhythms of life as it’s lived in this time and place. With gentle irony and profound consequences, Kiarostami interjects the imminent death of an elderly village lady and its subsequent ancient mourning ritual as a catalyst for change. In Persian with English subtitles. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (BS)
Case #1, Case #2
Qazih-e shekl-e aval, dovom
1979, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 48 min. (Total show: 87 min.)
"A wonderful snapshot of the first tide of revolution."—Alberto Elena, The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami
When a student surreptitiously disrupts a class, he and his mates are sent out into the hall until they reveal the culprit. A diverse group including parents, artists, religious leaders, and government officials are then asked to comment on the ethics of snitching vs. defying authority. In Kiarostami's hands, this set-up becomes much more than a lesson on classroom misbehavior. Begun in the last days of the Shah's regime and completed in the early stage of the revolution, it provides a fascinating cross-section of a society in transition.
Preceded by SOLUTION (1978, 12 min.), a lyrical change of pace involving spectacular mountain scenery, a stranded motorist, and his amazing tire, and TOOTHACHE (1980, 27 min.), which combines a dental-hygiene lecture with depictions of a young boy's distress that Godfrey Cheshire (Conversations with Kiarostami) calls "incredibly funny." All in Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restorations. (MR)
2001, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 88 min.
“What is on screen, above all, is life.”—A.O. Scott. The New York Times
“Consistently engaged and engaging…cinema that bravely takes its audience beyond a blinding conception-plagued veil and into a realm of simple, glorious truth.”—Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine
Invited by an agency of the United Nations to make a documentary calling attention to the plight of orphans in Uganda, Kiarostami fulfilled the task with seeming uninflected directness, yet his images perceive more than the commissioners might have imagined. The crew’s role as outsiders is implicit in the film’s self-referential method, but unvarnished emotion, nuances of physical and spiritual suffering, and the irrepressible joy of living speak to the camera without a filter. Characteristically, the director interprets this nation through its smallest and most powerless citizens, whether a dying boy in a bare clinic, or a child being carried away by new adoptive parents. In Persian and English with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2002, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran , 93 min.
With Mania Akbari, Amin Maher
"A work of inspired simplicity...a movie whose greatest virtue is its wry, compassionate precision."—A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“The ultimate lesson in less-is-more cinema…brilliant, almost symphonic.”—Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
In a trademark strategy, taking the front seat of an SUV as the film’s sole location, Kiarostami conjures up an astonishing range of emotions and stories in the course of ten encounters between the car’s nameless female driver (actress and video artist Akbari) and the passengers she picks up while navigating the streets of Tehran. A testy leg of the journey with the divorced mother’s sullen and accusatory ten-year-old son (Maher, Akbari’s own son) in the front seat gives the driver a backstory of sorts, but the compressed space paradoxically creates distance rather than intimacy. A succession of passengers including the woman’s sister (newly jilted by her fiancé), a devout elderly woman en route to a shrine, and a prostitute represent touchingly subtle studies in female alienation. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
10 on Ten
2004, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 88 min.
“A self-contained master class on cinema…inspiring and liberating.”—Deborah Young, Variety
Iran’s most honored filmmaker returns to the location of A TASTE OF CHERRY for a revealing documentary on himself. Driving the twisting mountain roads that have figured so significantly in his work, Kiarostami uses the intimacy of the front seat of his SUV to create the illusion of a one-on-one conversation with his audience. Holding forth on the methods and philosophy behind a body of work that ranges from early documentaries like HOMEWORK to his recent TEN, the director reveals a glimmer of ironic humor, especially in his concluding commentary on the influence of American cinema. In Persian with English voiceover. DCP digital. (BS)
2008, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 97 min.
With Juliette Binoche, Niki Karimi, Golshifteh Farahani
“A feast for the bedazzled eye and a crash course in narrative obsession.”—Ronnie Scheib, Variety
“A bold experiment.”—Stuart Crawford, Eye for Film
Kiarostami proves once again his skill as a master illusionist in a film that joins 10 ON TEN and FIVE (FOR OZU) in his body of experimental work. Staged as if it were a documentary of an audience watching a film that features the narration of a 12th-century Persian epic poem on the soundtrack, SHIRIN is composed of close-ups of 112 Iranian actresses and French actress Juliette Binoche, as reactions to the spectacle on the screen before them flicker across their faces. SHIRIN functions as both a marvelous lesson in the artifice of cinema and as a meditation on the captivating power of woman. In Persian with English subtitles. New DCP digital restoration. (BS)
2010, Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Iran, 106 min.
With Juliette Binoche, William Shimell
“Resplendently heady yet nimble.”—Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
“A flawless riff on our indigenous art cinema.”—J. Hoberman, Village Voice
“Audacious and radical.”—Scott Tobias, NPR
Kiarostami makes a daring foray into new territory with this puzzle of a love story that garnered universal critical raves. The seemingly make-believe relationship of a flirtatious French antiques dealer and an English author begs the question of authenticity when she invites him for a day of sightseeing in an idyllic Italian village famous as a wedding destination. As they alternately court and bicker with mounting emotional heat, Kiarostami dangles a host of maddening clues that there is much more to this story than meets the eye. In English, French, and Italian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
1977, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 110 min.
With Kurosh Afsharpanah, Shohreh Agdashloo
“A stellar film…plays into Kiarostami’s fascination with life itself.”—Steven Flores, Surrender to the Void
Producing this realistic drama on the brink of Iran’s 1979 revolution, Kiarostami ran afoul of the Shah’s censors. Mohammad (Afsharpanah), a mid-level civil servant and tax auditor, is accused of taking bribes. His subsequent job suspension is only the least in an undertow of problems that include a crumbling marriage and an overriding sense of ennui. While his wife (Agdashloo) chafes at her restricted life with a demanding child, Mohammad passes the time with male buddies in restless rounds of drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The film’s ominous sense that something in this society is coming to a head is underlined by a shockingly brutal incident of spousal abuse and a suicide attempt. In Persian with English subtitles. Digital video. (BS)
2017, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France, 119 min.
“Teeming with life’s magic and mysteries…the work of a truly distinctive artist, and to be cherished as a last gift to us.”—Geoff Andrews, Sight & Sound
“A stunning and majestic Kiarostami statement about love, cinema, death, technology, censorship, and the 21st century…It is moving, it is cosmic, it is sublime.”—Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Completed posthumously, Kiarostami’s final film is a simple but profound work composed of twenty-four short film sequences based around his own photographs and one Bruegel painting. His subtle method begs the question whether these images are true to life or the sly digital sleight of hand of a master magician. Kiarostami’s love of snowy landscapes, the sea, and his fascination with the unsentimental drama of nature bring home the intelligence and patient vision of the artist behind the camera in two-dozen contemplative mini-dramas. Horses frolic in a skittish mating dance in a snow-covered field; a cow sleeps on a beach at dusk amid swelling waves; a feral cat traps squabbling blackbirds; feisty crows flit ominously; and more, composing a vibrant meditation on life in all of its mysterious forms and trajectories. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)