By Indiewire | Indiewire March 19, 1998 at 2:00AM
Abbas Kiarostami speaks about "Taste of Cherry"
by Anthony Kaufman
At a time when Iran is opening up to more cultural exchange, it seems
more than coincidental that famous Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami
is touring the U.S. to publicize his Cannes Palme d'Or winning film,
"Taste of Cherry," his second to come to this country with official
distribution. But Kiarostami insists that his trip to the States was
planned two years before and adds, "People in countries are like
children. While their parents may be fighting, they still establish
relationships. Even though they are children from different households,
they still have a relationship."
"Taste of Cherry" is a simple and profound film about a man driving
through dusty mountainsides and construction sites, searching for a man
to help him commit suicide. Although the film comes from a place where
most Americans only think of hostages and Khomeni, it transcends its
country, creating a universal story that audiences worldwide have felt
in their souls. And with a conclusion that just twists your mind inside
out, the film is perhaps the most risk-taking to play in the U.S. since
Kiarostami fan, Jean-Luc Godard came here nearly 40 years ago.
indieWIRE: Can people make films in Iran without the government? Can
they just get a camera and start getting the money together?
Abbas Kiarostami: No, it can't be done in Iran. Before the election of
President Hatami, there were more restrictions and it was more difficult
for a director to start a film. But the restrictions have been
curtailed and have been diminished right now and it's a better
environment for filmmaking.
iW: Would you take credit for any of that?
Kiarostami: No, it's not related. It's just the pressure that was
about to boil over and they had to do something.
iW: In an article by Godfrey Cheshire, he explains the technique you use
when filming the conversations in the car, that none of the actors in
the film met each other and it was always you sitting opposite them and
talking to them. How did these scenes work? Did you improvise?
Kiarostami: Yes and no. I write every line first because that gives me
self-confidence when I go to shoot a scene. But that's not something
I'm committed to. I go with an open mind. I'm willing to change the
lines if necessary. If one day I feel obligated that I have to shoot
whatever is in my script already, than that might be a boring day for
iW: The young soldier you talk to is particularly real and spontaneous.
He's not an actor, obviously, how did you find him and elicit such
responses from him?
Kiarostami: Originally, that guy appeared in one of the earlier shots
of the film where there are some young people volunteering to do some
work. It's there where we found him and liked him for the part of the
soldier. But the interesting thing about the soldier is throughout the
shooting of the film, he didn't think we were shooting the real movie,
so he kept asking him, "When are we going to do the movie?" Because I
was sitting across from him, talking to him. The camera was mounted on
the side of the car and there was a key on the steering wheel which I
was using to both start the sound and the camera. Since it was always
me driving and talking to them, this made the soldier think it was not
really the part. He kept waiting for us to give him a gun and ask him
to kill someone or be killed by someone. He kept asking us, "What is
your business with me, why don't you tell me what my part is?"
Whatever reaction you see from him is a true reaction. Including when I
wasn't telling him what we wanted him to do. Including one time where
in the dashboard of the car, I told him, "Could you give me a box of
chocolates from the dashbaord," and there was a knife in there with some
pomegrante juice on it, so he thought we had killed someone -- so that
was how we got the kind of horrified reactions you see from him in the
Within the style I use, there's really no other way of doing it because
you can't pair two non-actors together. If you do that, they can't
act. They can't do the scene. So that's why I was using myself.
iW: Can you speak about the locations of the film? I know that these
barren hillsides with a lone tree are very important in your work. Why
these recurring images?
Kiarostami: I can't tell you why exactly I'm attracted to those type of
locations, to those type of lone trees that you mentioned, but I agree
with you that I'm very attracted to them. I've been shooting lone trees
for the past twenty years. Maybe it is the tree that is inviting me to
take a picture of it.
iW: And what about the use of the contruction sites? [My interviewing
partner, a writer from the Boston Phoenix, likens this sites to the way
Rome was depicted by some of the Italian Neorealists.]
Kiarostami: I was looking for a location where the type of strangers
that you see in the film could have a meaningful and logical presence.
If I were to go to a remote desert, there would be no reason for them to
be there. In a city, in an urban environement, he could not have the
type of communication and interaction with these people, so I had to use
a location in which there was a reason for these people to come
together. But the most important motif in that environment was the dust
itself, the dust had to be dominating everything.
iW: And did people like Rosselini have an influence on you?
Kiarostami: I remember when I was a more impressionable audience
member, I was getting inspiration from the Neorealist filmmakers. But
the similarity you see with the Neorealist films is because Neorealism
had to do with Italy after the war and here in Iran, you see a situation
which is again, a city after a war, an 8 year old war. And it's more
the social conditions and the human elements that reminds you of a
Neorealist film than the stylistic ones.
iW: The ending of the film creates a violent reaction. My expectations
were completely ripped out from me. It's a big risk, it must be a big
risk even for an Iranian film. Can you discuss this risk?
Kiarostami: It's like you're speaking for me. Because I felt the exact
same way. One night, when I was conceiving the ending, I did think this
was a huge twist in the end. I wasn't quite comfortable with it and
throughout the night, and when I woke up in the morning, I did think
this was a really big risk, but it was a risk worth taking. Even when I
have people arguing about the ending of the film, I like it because it
means the movie hasn't ended. I don't care if it meets some people's
expectations or goes against those expectations, but the fact that the
film has a life in their minds and they keep thinking about it -- that's
what I like. It creates some energy in the mind of the viewer. And
sometimes, I think that kind of energy is more important than people
agreeing on what they see or liking what they see.
["Taste of Cherry" is being distributed by Zeitgeist and opens tomorrow
at select theaters.]