Art and ExperienceAbbas Kiarostami was a filmmaker that deepened the world’s understanding of Iran and its people at the time western media were hell-bent on putting Iran in a black box and call it a global threat.  

 “The wind will carry

The cherry blossoms

All the way to the whiteness of the clouds.”

– Abbas Kiarostami

Former husband to Parvin Amir-Gholi for 13 years and father to two sons – Ahmad and Bahman – Abbas Kiarostami was also a towering figure in world cinema for his poetic way of looking at ordinary life and bringing profoundly humane films to the silver screen. He was an artistic polymath, perhaps unbeknownst to many cinephiles. He was a photographer, painter and poet, in addition to being an extraordinary director of over 40 films that had a powerful impact on the Iranian New Wave.

“Not being able to feel the pleasure of seeing a magnificent landscape with someone else is a form of torture. That is why I started taking photographs. I wanted somehow to eternalize those moments of passion and pain,” Kiarostami said.

He had once said, “we’re often not able to look at what’s in front of us, unless it’s in a frame.” And sometimes, we are unable to appreciate the value of what we have, until it is gone. I will not lie; when the news of his death hit media outlets on July 4, we were completely taken by surprise; utterly shocked at the great loss, unable to believe it to be true, because Kiarostami was indeed a highly influential filmmaker in the world and the only Iranian ever to win the Palme D’Or at Cannes, but we were also shocked because we had not expected it. When was the last time we sat down to rewatch The Taste of Cherry? When was the last time we felt the missing space in our hearts for long silences and long shots, searching for the meaning that eludes us but flashes before us at every corner of self-discovery?

Kiarostami was not a follower of ‘let’s-overwhelm-audience-with-too-much-information’ movement. His films are a reflection of the real life, and to him, even in the real life we receive less information than what he gave us; “I feel that [people] should be grateful for the little bit of information I give them,” and they were. In more ways than one.

The news of his passing sent shockwaves through the world film industry. Picture after picture resurfaced on various social media, all showing him in his signature sunglasses and serene smile. American director Martin Scorsese issued a statement in the wake of Kiarostami’s passing, and described him as “one of those rare artists with a special knowledge of the world, put into words by the great Jean Renoir: ‘Reality is always magic.’”

Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Institut Lumière and of the Cannes Film Festival, paid tribute to Kiarostami, describing him as “extremely gentle, extremely tolerant, and curious about others.”

“He was a true artist…not only a filmmaker, but also a great photographer, a great poet; one must rush to read his books, his texts; a complete artist, magnificent,” he added.

Gilles Jacob, director and president of the Cannes Film Festival between 2001 and 2014, in a tweet in French following the passing of Kiarostami, said “Abbas Kiarostami is no more, except in the hearts of those who loved him and his beautiful movies.”

Kiarostami was invited by the Oscars to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2016, but he never made it.

Film critic Philip Concannon in an exclusive correspondence with Mehr News talked about his personal experience with Kiarostami’s movies.

“I first discovered Kiarostami’s work in the late ’90s, when the Koker Trilogy was shown on television,” he said. “I was living in Ireland then and this was my first revelation that the world of cinema was so much bigger than what I had been exposed to.”

“It felt like nothing I had seen before,” he went on to add, “The simple but involving and profoundly moving storytelling, the way he played with notions of fiction and reality, the way his use of offscreen space was as important as what we see on the screen.”

“It was fascinating to follow his career and to see how he continued to evolve as an artist,” he said reverently. “He never stopped trying to find new ways of making films, and to test the boundaries of what cinema could be, with formal experiments such as Ten, Five: Dedicated to Ozu and Shirin. His final filmsCertified Copy and Like Someone in Love had the fluid, playful, curious quality of an artist completely free and in command of his craft.”

“I’m heartbroken that we will see no more Kiarostami films,” he lamented, “but I’m looking forward to revisiting his work, which never loses its freshness, and always retains its capacity to enchant and surprise.”

When asked to select one film as his favorite, he chose Homework, a 1989 documentary film where young boys of a primary school in Iran talk about their parents, teachers, punishment, reward and homework in an educational system fraught with serious weaknesses.

“From such a simple premise, Kiarostami produces a revealing, moving and emotionally complex portrait film about education, family, society,” he explained.” I have seen this film just once around 15 years ago, but it remains vivid in my memory, with the final scenes being incredibly powerful.”

He maintained that while Homework seems to be one of his least-seen and discussed films today, it is one that he would encourage people to seek out.

Concannon talked highly of the influence and the role of Kiarostami’s films in bringing a great revelation to the knowledge of the west about Iranian life; “Like the breakthrough Japanese films of the 1950s, Kiarostami’s work opened the door to a whole culture, with other director subsequently coming through following his success.”

However, he went on to highlight the main reason for Kiarostami’s appeal as his focus on people, their interactions, their contradictions, and their mysteries.

“He could capture something ineffable but true about human nature, and he found beauty in the everyday,” he said.” Even if his films were specifically about Iran, Kiarostami like all truly great artists created work that had deeper universal resonances, allowing them to move viewers and win admirers across the globe.”

Considered one of the great masters of world cinema, Abbas Kiarostami passed away at 76 on July 4, 2016 in Paris where he had been undergoing hospital treatment for cancer. He may no longer be among us, but he will continue to live within his timeless creations of art and cinema.

Written by Marjohn Sheikhi