Sprint Long Distance

The Iranian


email us

Sprint Long Distance

Flower delivery in Iran

Fly to Iran

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

    News & views

The best director in the world?

The Daily Telegraph
September 21, 2000

Cinema's golden age is not quite over - thanks to the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami. He talks to SF Said By SF Said

The cutting edge of cinema today is not in Los Angeles, Paris or even Tokyo. Instead, a film industry that has survived revolution, war and censorship is reinventing the movies, producing something rare and beautiful: a cinema of life.

Surprising as it may seem, the film industry in question - the most vibrant and exciting in the world - is in Iran. Abbas Kiarostami is its most renowned director. "So many films today send you out empty-handed," he reflects. "While you are watching, you may laugh or weep - but when they end, you are empty. I think my films leave an impression that lasts a bit longer."

Such is the impression that his films create, many critics rate Kiarostami among the all-time greats, a worthy successor to Rossellini, Truffaut or Kieslowski. He has won the highest prizes at the top film festivals for movies such as Close-Up (1989), A Taste of Cherry (1997) and now The Wind Will Carry Us, which opens tomorrow.

The man himself couldn't be less like the stereotype of an Iranian. He has an immensely calm, cultured air. He points out that his cinema has roots in Persian traditions of visual art and story-telling that are millennia old - aspects of his country's civilisation that are often forgotten in the West.

But the film tradition that he has founded is dynamic and constantly renewing itself. Several of his former assistants are now award-winning directors in their own right: Jafar Panahi has just scooped the Golden Lion at Venice; Bahman Ghobadi and Hassan Yektapaneh shared the Camera d'Or at Cannes this year for best first feature.

"Kiarostami not only taught me cinema," says Yektapaneh, "but how to look at the world."

This is the distinctive quality of today's Iranian films: they show you something important about living. "Our films are very simple," says Kiarostami. "They are not about technology; they're about people."

His movies are built around everyday human situations; they focus on the small moments that make up our lives. Based on true stories, operating in the space between fiction and documentary, they use non-professional actors - often the very people whose stories they are. "That gives the films authenticity," he says. "They have the guarantee of reality behind them."

His working method would horrify a Hollywood producer. He writes only a brief outline script - perhaps 10 pages - before looking for actors on the streets of Tehran and the villages of the Iranian countryside.

"Non-professional people help me," he explains, "because they don't listen to me as a professional actor would. When they have trouble doing what I want them to, I realise that I'm wrong. I adapt myself to reality, rather than trying to adapt it to myself."

The result is a cinema with all the luminous beauty, depth and strangeness of life itself. Kiarostami uses none of the manipulative tricks of commercial film, never telling the audience when to laugh or cheer, who to root for or reject. Rather, he treats it with respect, simply placing us in a world, and letting us find our own way around. "The job of the film-maker is not to tell you what to think," he says. "That is for the viewers."

Kiarostami films are alive with mysterious images: a pale green apple rolls off a roof, a tortoise scrabbles in the dust, a bone floats down a sunlit stream. Only gradually do we piece together who the characters are and what they're doing. The effect is to heighten our curiosity, to engage our creativity, to draw us in and make us attend to every detail - for everything here, as in life, may prove significant.

It sounds simple - as cinema ought to be - but it has never been done in quite this way before. Kiarostami's kind of freedom is so radical, it can feel disorienting; it can even make you angry. For someone accustomed to the predictable conventions of Hollywood, it is like finding yourself on top of a mountain, infinite space on every side, when you are used to seeing a narrow grid of streets with no horizon.

Drawn from reality and structured like it, Kiarostami's is a cinema of life in another sense, too. Until recently, his films played mind-bending games with notions of truth and knowledge, deconstructing the movie-making and viewing processes - but his most recent, mature work is dominated by the eternal themes of life and death. 'When one gets older," he says - he has just turned 60 - "one somehow becomes clearer about life, in the same way that the blind can feel more acutely. They lose their physical sight, and develop their insight."

Having taken his art form in new directions, Kiarostami is now using it to make life-affirming films. Not shallow, feel-good entertainments, but profoundly affecting celebrations of the temporary beauty that is our world. They urge us to live well, as if every moment mattered.

His humanistic affirmation that this world is infinitely cherishable has brought conflict with the Iranian censors. "My latest film hasn't yet been shown in Iran," he says. "They think that if you stress this world, you are negating the world to come. But the two can go hand in hand."

His situation is a reminder of the problems that Iranian film-makers face. The Islamic state places strict guidelines on what can and cannot be shown; at any stage of production, a film can be banned. But could it be argued that these very difficulties have stimulated innovation?

"What I say is not condoning censorship," says Kiarostami, "but I think one of the reasons for the success of Iranian film-makers is that they have to build a bridge over the restrictions they are subjected to. Probably if they had all the facilities that are available to film-makers in the West, they would not create, in such simple ways, films which are so striking."

Whatever the reasons, the Iranian cinema of life is an extraordinary achievement. If you've ever felt that the great days of film are dead, that there's nothing left to say, see one of these movies.


 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.