Wednesday, September 12, 2007

‘Cherry’ gives a taste of what simple, beautiful cinema is like

Al just reviewed "Gabbeh" from notable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. I’m following up the Iranian cinema discussion by looking at another remarkable film “Taste of Cherry” by Abbas Kiarostami. This review was published in Evening Weekly but since it’s very much Baiskoaf material why not put it here as well.

Mr. Badii has a plan. A dangerous plan. A plan that would strike anyone as shocking.

He drives around the outskirts of Tehran to find someone to bury him the next morning after he commits suicide. Knowing how reluctant one would be to fulfill his request he has money to offer.

The question now is simple: Will he kill himself in the end?

That was all I knew about Taste of Cherry when I first heard of it. It fascinated me. It sounded like something I had not heard before. And it turned out to be unlike anything I had seen before.

Coming out of the new Iranian cinema, and from one of its pioneers Abbas Kiarostami it made perfect sense the film landed joint top prize in 1997 at Cannes, the most prestigious international film festival.

The film’s protagonist Badii, a middle-aged Iranian man, drives through the streets and witnesses unemployed people. He gets to the outskirts where he meets three potential “candidates”, different in age and status but similar in their response to his request: unwilling.

He first offers a ride to a young recruit walking to the camp. The kid’s initial suspicion about Badii attempting a homosexual pick up translates into horror when Badii finally spills his quest.

He then approaches a seminarian who tries to convince him to reconsider the decision and appreciate life on religious grounds.

Finally he encounters an old taxidermist who himself had retracted suicidal tendencies after beginning to admire the little pleasures of life.

This does not give away anything though. In fact it is just the gist of this haunting meditation on life.

Cherry does not provide any explanation to why he wants to end it all. It avoids being preachy and pretentious. In other words Badii does not look high at the sky, lift his arms and lash out his life’s miseries. That would definitely defeat the whole purpose of the film.

His expression-less face alone says it. He is lifeless and alienated from the world. He does not say much and listens to what others have to say about his fate. The irony here is the main character remains vague and the supporting characters are fleshed out. Kiarostami gets away with it because that I believe is why the film works so well.

Although everyone Badii meets react to his situation with disagreement they approach the matter differently. The dialogues that take place between them are eloquent and understated. The final conversation, or the taxidermist’s monologue rather, is particularly charming. He shares his own attempt at suicide and that the taste of cherry revived his faith in life. Listening to his experience itself is an inspirational moment in a film which basically questions the human existence.

Famous film critic Leonard Maltin points out Taste of Cherry is “A contemplation of humanity quite unlike any other captured on film.”

Humanity and simplicity are indeed the trademarks of Iranian cinema. Only a filmmaker like Majid Majidi could pull off a film worthy of international acclaim out of a story as straightforward as two kids coping with the loss of a pair of shoes (Children of Heaven), while Mohsen Makhmalbaf proves special effects and big budgets are needless to make a visually stunning film (Gabbeh).

Hence, Iranian cinema is testimony to cinema’s infinite possibilities. Given the limited resources available and the existing political suppression, the country yet brings out some of the most realistic and thought-provoking films in world cinema.

Taste of Cherry is indeed thought-provoking. Bittersweet and lyrical, it will stay with you for a long time.

It is the sort of film that inspires budding filmmakers: primarily three conversations with three different perspectives thrown in, a minimal plotline with a challenging theme, and a shoestring budget production with non-professional actors.

I really hope it gets seen and, hopefully, be appreciated by as many cinema-lovers as possible.

By Shaari


aindhy said...

Taste of Cherry is a truly, TRULY, memorable cinema experience.

Al said...

i think the world saw a resurgence in quality cinema in the 1990s and the taste of cherry is clearly on the crest there..

Hilath said...

Taste of Cherry is one of my favorite films of all time. Iranian cinema in general may now be my favorite.