Iranian writer-director Abbas Kiarostami’s films are like fairy tales drained of all colorful effect. Their mood is clearly allegorical, their sustained quietude is poetic and yet all the talk is small talk and nothing dramatic ever happens. His most seen and praised film in the United States, Taste of Cherry (1997), concerns a man who is trying to find a person who will help him commit suicide and who pursues his goal with all the ardor of someone pricing new lawn mowers. The impact of a Kiarostami film relies on the viewer’s susceptibility to an accumulation of low-keyed encounters in a lackadaisical mise-en-scène of humble lives and striking scenery. If you can fall in sync with their barely perceptible pace, they can seem overwhelmingly beautiful — if not, then merely enigmatic and perversely dull.
And Life Goes On ... (1992) concerns a film director who, with his young son, is driving to a region of Iran which has been devastated by an earthquake in order to find out if the boy who starred in his last movie has survived. The movie in question is Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s House? (1987) and the boy being sought is its “real-life” star. It’s a thin fiction, then, and combined with the film’s improvisational feel it serves as a reminder of the collusion necessary between viewer and filmmaker to maintain the illusion of storytelling (one suspects that a portion of Kiarostami’s critical success is due to the interactive possibilities he offers those who would write about his films).
The story proceeds as a series of meetings separated by stretches of everyday boredom. Although Bresson and Antonioni (and more recently, Angelopoulos and Dumont) come to mind, Kiarostami has struck his own personal vein of ennui. Sun-baked and implacable, his protagonist pursues a goal whose meaning dwindles, just as life absorbs all our puny intentions.
Even the film itself is not all that important. At one point the director meets a man who had appeared in his last film. The man takes the director to his house and the director remarks that he always thinks of the man as living in the house he had in the film. “Well,” the man replies, “to be honest, this isn’t my house either... I’m just living in it for this film. My real house was destroyed in the earthquake.”
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
See this week's Reckless Eyeballing for more on screen-writer and director Abbas Kiarostami.
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