R.I.P. Abbas Kiarostami

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Iconic Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has died at the age of 76, causing shock waves to erupt through the film world, his fans, and the critics who loved him. If you’ve seen just one of his films, you will know their unique-ness, their radical insistence on distance (very Brechtian), the characters often driving around in vehicles, their faces seen through the windows of a car, with reflections of trees and buildings flowing over them like water.

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Certified CopyI reviewed the film here.

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Like Someone in Love

His films defy description. They have to do with life, and how to see, how to think, how to perceive. The questions are more important than the answers. Seen as a whole, it is an absolutely extraordinary body of work, one of the most impressive in the last 50 years.

Kiarostami’s films that made it here (and most of them did after <Taste of Cherry) were not just films, or limited-release foreign films, or indie arthouse hits or glittering Cannes-festival winners. His films may have been SOME of those things some of the time. But what a Kiarostami film was ALL the time was an EVENT. Like Jean-Luc Godard, like Terrence Malick, like Wong Kar Wai … there are only a few directors who inspire such reverence, such passionate interest over DECADES.

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Taste of Cherry

Kiarostami kept getting more and more inventive, he never stopped coming out with challenging thought-provoking films, he never rested on his laurels, his talent did not calcify as he grew older (as often happens with directors). Two masterful – and radically different – films as Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love coming out one after the other? It’s been thrilling.

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Shirin

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Shirin

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Shirin

I have written a lot about Kiarostami over the years (full archive here), although there are many I still have not seen (many are hard to find, in general). He lived and worked in Iran (making it through the Revolution and continuing to make films afterwards), and it wasn’t until the end that he made two films outside of Iran (Certified Copy and Like Someone In Love). At the very same time that his former assistant Jafar Panahi was being hounded, arrested, and persecuted, he was flourishing in a way that other Iranian artists could only dream of. He had a cosmopolitan intellectual mindset. He was an example to other struggling Iranian artists on what could be possible. His films were not as political as Panahi’s, but they did not lack for controversy. (Taste of Cherry, about a middle-class man driving around a construction site looking for someone – anyone – willing to bury his body after he committed suicide – won the Palme d’Or at Cannes – the first film from Iran to get that honor – but in Iran, the mullahs and censorship office went nuts because of the suicide factor.) His roots in the great Iranian cinema tradition were strong, and he wrote scripts for other directors (including Panahi), collaborating with others in the “everyone does everything” atmosphere of Iranian cinema. But Kiarostami’s reputation was not local. He was an international man. He worked with Juliette Binoche twice (in Shirin and Certified Copy), he was a regular at Cannes and the Berlinale, one of the glittering lights of the film world for decades, a true icon.

I wanted to point you to Godfrey Cheshire’s piece about his friendship with Kiarostami (Cheshire is encyclopedic in his knowledge of Iranian film, and has traveled there repeatedly for film festivals. You want to learn more about Iranian film? Read Godfrey Cheshire’s stuff.)

The writers at Rogerebert.com, myself included, have each written a tribute, collected here.

It’s telling, and indicative of the power of Kiarostami’s imagery, that I shared the below screen-grab on Twitter and Facebook when I heard the news, putting it up with no text attached. Just the image. And people started sharing it, liking it, leaving comments “I’m so sad.”

Because the image is all.

And once you’ve seen it, it will never ever leave you.

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Close Up

Very sad news. But what an artist.

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