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NewCityNet Film Tip of the Week

Getting a "Taste of Cherry."

By Ray Pride

JUNE 1, 1998: 

Abbas Kiarostami's "Taste of Cherry" is a tour of babel, a simple and elegant contemplation of what makes life worth living. A man with dark eyes and a tired face drives his battered Mercedes along the hills above Teheran, through an arid desolation of tarnished beauty. He wants to hire someone for an unspecified job; each of the countrymen he encounters, of different classes and ethnic backgrounds, turns him away. His task: he is simply looking into the collected faces of humanity, and asking, who is worthy of taking my life? Kiarostami is as nimble with landscape as Antonioni is with architecture, allowing you to stare at his images as if into landscape itself. He repeats his actions and the hairpin turns of his path, but the effect is more accumulation, accretion, than repetition. His lost will to live matches our restlessness at first, then his will to suicide becomes a Socratic inquiry into many things. While he wants these daily motions to end, we see the reflection of clouds swirling on the windscreen as he circles again, again, again. We follow the hairpin sway of the journey, the ardent deconstruction of the switchbacks. The patterns become beautiful. Kiarostami's use of sound is precise and brilliant as well. When the man returns to his intended gravesite, curs whimper, complain nearby. Ambient music characterizes those he encounters and the space they inhabit. There is the whisper of trees, the hum of the desert hills. When he makes a return to the city near the end of the film, you could close your eyes and imagine the city that you see. The last shot is the best, filled with dozens of perplexing implications: it is part of the narrative we watch, yet it is "nonfiction," yet it is an echo of the same shots we have seen in the "fiction" we have watched and yet... It swallows the story whole and we start all over again, thinking. Does the man die? The story does not.

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