A Taste of Cherry Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1997) Homayoun Ershadi
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 4 April 2013 Ticket: £5
retrocrit: all is revealed (perhaps)
In his direction of A Taste of Cherry, Abbas Kiarostami (AK) is like one of those magicians who put on a great show of revealing to an audience the method by which they accomplish their tricks, and then undermine the explanation by pulling off the trick in contradiction to principles of the explanation. A switch in framing that deepens the appreciation of the audience.
In AK's Taste of Cherry there are also two frames at work. They mark out the two different perspectives that AK has incorporated into the movie. In a Taste of Cherry the subject matter, suicide, is presented within two contrasting frames of reference which point to the different formal issues brought into play. There is the conventional film frame which in itself sustains the narrative with its convention of the privileged camera; and there is the meta framing device that shows the camera and the crew, revealing the film as a certain kind of product. The one frame develops the fiction of the narrative whilst the ensuing frame strips away this artifice and focuses attention on the construct.
The frame of filmmaking is revealed in the final sequence of the film when we are shown the film crew at work collecting the last pieces of material needed to finish TC. This final framing points to the fact that TC was not intended to be taken for anything 'real' in itself; it was never conceived as a pure replication. The issues embedded in the story are real issues, the way in which they are presented is real, but the narrational presentation of them was always intended to be understood as a construct. Perhaps in much the same way that a Platonic dialogue is a construct; a transparently artificial device intended as a vehicle for ideas, acted out by a set of characters, who follow a preordained script.
As Plato set up his dramatis personae in such a way that we understand that what is happening is a benign fabrication for our entertainment and instruction, so AK exploits the potential of film to first mask the perspective of the camera, in order in the end, to dramatically reveal its meta presence. So that we understand that what we have have been viewing and absorbing, as 'real', or rather a product designed to replicate the expressive indicators of 'real', is in fact a simple mechanical product of intentionality. Virtual not real. Most narrative film is of course simply an expressive function of intentionality: a means of giving form to mental representations. It takes an AK or a Godard to exploit the possibilities of this truism, and reveal it in an entertaining enlightening manner whilst remaining true to film as a state of mind rather than as a didactic lesson.
In TC, the final shots comprise a philosophical coup de film, a moment of pure re-evaluation. The exposure of the film crew at work compels the viewer to drop from their eyes the scales of any emotional purchase on the story, to drop any illusion that there can be a real outcome or playing out of the vectors of the narrative, and to understand the material and the issues therein, as pure proposition. Like the magicians final act, it is a joke, but a good one, that jolts us into consciousness.
The issues which provoked AK's script revolve about the idea of suicide and the sorts of claims this manner of death makes upon intimacy. The idea of intimacy, fear of intimacy, lies at the heart of the film. In the opening sequence we see Mr Badii, (B) drive around looking for a man to help him . B drives the car as if he were some predatory beast. B looks for his man with the kind of intense desperation that characterises a man looking for sex. B has that mixture of concealed desire and anxiety that perhaps AK has observed in homosexual men cruising for sex, a dangerous undertaking in a country where some 4000 homosexuals have been executed since the revolution. B, furtive and anxious is not looking for sex. He is looking for a man to partner him in a more intimate entanglement: to help B to die.
Reflection: AK will certainly know the phrase, le petit mort, often used to describe post coital sadness. It is possible that consideration of the analogous intimacy of sex to death, underlies TC. Overall I think that it would be doing scant justice to AK as a thinker and filmmaker to reduce TC to such narrow band of meaning. The filmic use of the car, B's proposition of suicide and the responses of the others engaged in the discourses all point to a imperative in the film to use its devices to say something about the human condition. The fact that suicide illustrates both loneliness and need for intimacy.
And at the crux of the human condition lies death through suicide. Perhaps in the human domaine it is the last repository of meaningful dialogue. Sex, education, work have all become subjects of mechanical discourses, often determined by the shibboleths of social political or ideological beliefs. Suicide, eludes the semantic clutches of the times and the easy passage of formulaic responses. It remains a proposition for humans about which there is a moral dilemma. At the heart of the proposition of suicide lies the question as to why we should continue to live when we feel overwhelmed; when life has become intolerable. What is life? AK in his poetic realism sets the mulberry tree against the cherry tree. The sweet opposes the bitter.
In its narrative opposition AK employs the voice of one who has overcome the impulse to kill himself against the voice of one on the cusp of fateful decision. The taxidermist has come through a self destructive state of mind consequent to personal disaster, and survived with a deeper insight not only into life as a decision, but into death as a decision. This individual although in his being opposing the stated intention of B to kill himself in the hole by the cherry tree, understands his need for some one with whom to share an intimacy and accepts B's invitation to play a part in his death. The dialogue between the two men itself wavers between life and death, the spirit and body. Poised on the delicate balance of frail human judgement the outcome is perhaps philosophically irresolvable and so resolved in the structure of the film itself. But it is the intimacy of the dialogue that compels, revealing an essential loneliness in human experience. It was this equation of suicide and intimacy that frightened and warned off the other men whom B approached in the first sequences of TC. In our modernity the pretext of self destruction can open us up. Like B we spend all our time going through the motions of being alive, the big car the expensive tastes and clothes, only for all this to be a pretext for our decision to die.
The way in which C is shot from first to last is to use the actual filming as a layer of meaning built into the film. AK transposes in the filming of TC his concerns and their conceptualisation into the style and form of the shooting script.
AK loves cars. There can be no doubt. And part of his love of cars expresses itself in the way for which they have come to represent us and to define our way of life. Incessant movement and agitation. The transversing of space the contraction of time: and suicide is the ultimate contraction of time. And nearly all the film is shot on the move. The opening shots of TC are all tracking shots from the car. The haunted peering of B out of the window; always moving on; and despite his searching, barely able to stop, because stopping is not in the nature of the car. As if when you stop you are dead; when you stop moving you cease to exist. When B stops there is only the grave under the cherry tree. Filmmaking crafted out of the enduring and powerful states of mind associated with car culture. In TC, AK builds this car culture of infinite unlimited movement into the idea of the search for the assured stillness that is death.
Movement and stillness. as if death were the only way out for us. The long shots of B driving his car down the myriad meandering roads that lead about the countryside and hills outside the city provoke thoughts of the nature of life itself as a twisting road. And again the only manner in which the car is stopped is the lure of intimacy or the lure of death, which in TC have been subsumed within each other: a transcendence finally revealed by the film crew which marks the end of the film.