WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Kiarostami’s renowned films play on the widely assumed distinctions between documentary and fictional modes of filmmaking. In these films, reality and fiction feed into each other so much so that distinction between them is not just impossible, but also irrelevant. These quasi-documentary films form a bridge between his early works which have neo-realistic roots with sharp social criticism and his later films that have tended to be primarily cinematic experiments.

Style

Abbas Kiarostami has been called a minimalist and that label is especially justified for the films he made last decade. He shoots on location with long takes and uses direct sound. There is minimal music in his films and most of the dialogues are improvised. He has a penchant for rural geography and his characters can often been seen driving cars on rugged and circuitous paths. He usually eschews reverse shots and makes remarkable use of off screen space.

WHO is he?

A highly regarded and influential Iranian filmmaker working since the 1970s, sometimes associated with the Iranian New Wave movement. Starting his career as a graphic designer and illustrator, Kiarostami worked for Kanun, the state-sponsored Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where he made excellent educational films, before moving on to make challenging films that reflect on the nature of the cinematic medium. He won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1997 for his deeply humanistic film, The Taste of Cherry (1997).

WHY is he of interest?

French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once commented: “Cinema begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami”. It would not be an overstatement to say that Abbas Kiarostami was instrumental in revitalising key cinematic debates during the 1990s and the 2000s.

His films have regularly questioned complacent assumptions about the medium and have helped bring the much-needed international critical attention to Asian cinema.

WHERE to discover him?

Possibly the most famous of all his films, Close Up (1990) centres on a real-life charlatan who entered a middle class home in suburban Tehran, posing as filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

For the film, Kiarostami recreates the entire incident, after the man was caught and convicted, with the same people involved: an extremely intelligent and warmly ironic experiment with cinematic truth that takes us back to square one.

srikanth srinivasan