All Hail Kiarostami! "The Wind Will Carry Us"
by Mark Peranson
Three mysterious strangers ride into an isolated outpost, their purposes unclear though we presume them to be nefarious two of them are never seen. Their bossy leader proceeds to befriend a small child, ingratiating himself with the community's inhabitants as he takes instructions from another unseen controller and awaits the death of a town elder. What is this, some kind of Western?
The only thing in the above, bareboned description to give away that we're in Iran actually, Kurdistan is the presence of the small child, by now as common in Western conceptions of Iranian film as Robin Williams is to noxious, tearjerking Christmas trash (one suspects some fertile crosspollinating Hollywood mind is right now trying to pair Williams with Iranian kiddie hack Majid Majidi).
But if I continue by explaining that its director frames his beautifully photographed outdoor fields with uncommon exactitude, the highly critical narrative progressing by minimalist increments, examining all worldly philosophies through glasses darkly, one could guess we've been plunged two feet deep in terra Kiarostami ultra firma.
If "Taste of Cherry" was Kiarostami doing Tolstoy to the nines, pleasing reactionaries would say genuflecting to his Western supporters with a philosophical pondering on the reasons for living and, in the process, earning a share of the 1997 Palme d'Or for his efforts, "The Wind Will Carry Us" finds the Iranian director in Beckett mode. Though, to allude to the Book of Esther, the name of Godot is never enunciated. It's a film of uncommon depth that leaves impressions of a specific world, while yielding the utmost respect to its viewers; in doing so, Kiarostami approximates and appreciates the world unlike most other works of art.
Depending on one's own perspective and a Kiarostami film certainly depends on one's perspective it's an auteurist film in every conceivable sense of the word. The film has prompted walkouts from ardent Kiarostami fans because the master's just doing the same old thing; the film has been lauded by Kiarostamiphiles worldwide as the director's best film to date. Either way you want to see it, "The Wind Will Carry Us" takes Kiarostami's trademarked open narrative called by its author "An Unfinished Cinema" to its ultimate endpoint. I hope.
After watching the film, which turns out more to be a crosswordpuzzlecumthriller than a Western, one is hard pressed to describe the events one has just seen. Don't believe me? Let me quote the plot summary from the production notes: "A few people arrive from Tehran for a short stay at Siah Dareh, a village in Iranian Kurdistan. The locals do not know why they are there. The strangers wander around the former cemetery and let the villagers think they are looking for treasure. They end up leaving without really giving the impression that they have found what they were looking for."
Now call me crazy, but I thought they were there to film a death ritual. Other theories have been advanced: My guess is, ask Kiarostami, and the sly master will say that he, too, is a member of the audience, and just let out a chuckle.
"The Wind Will Carry Us", besides being a film where the viewer must do more work than its author, is quite funny, especially to those inclined towards the humor of Tati. Kiarostami's purposes are as clear as day: this is one of those films about nothing that is also about everything, a translucent examination of life and death, an exacting portrait of a communal way of life infringed upon by the tools of modernity. (Here, a Jeep takes the place of "Taste of Cherry"'s Range Rover; a cell phone is the only way the engineer can communicate with his boss he must do so from the hills above the town, where a worker is buried while digging ditches to be used in some kind of communications project).
Its also a biting comedy about ordinary life that reverses some of the normal metaphors associated with life and death. (The village is as intricately constructed as any realworld set.) Moreover, even though his humanist impulses are as strong as ever painstakingly so "Wind" is far less neorealist than its predecessors. The film is Kiarostami's venture into the world of topsyturvydom, and this reviewer takes the clear confusion to be a plus.
Kiarostami leaves us with a series of indelible images imprinted in the mind, and these are the metaphysical clues towards meaning the engineer (Behzad Dourani) flipping over a turtle as it crawls along, a painful act of awesome violence casually perpetrated without forethought; a bone floating down a stream; the descent to an underworld where love and beauty have been driven to hide in the form of a faceless female teenager, where the engineer recites the Forough Farrokhzad's poem that gives the film its slightly unfortunate title (though the original title "Strawberry Fields" has other Western connotations), snapping the major themes together with a casual, yet asalwaysimpressive force.
After accepting the runnerup prize at last year's Venice festival, the man recently hailed as the director of the 90's by both "Film Comment" magazine and a poll conducted by Cinematheque Ontario, announced that his latest film will be his last officially entered in any competitive festival. Far from being disappointed at placing, it's clear Kiarostami's accomplished all that he's set out to do. He's been accepted all hail Abbas. "The Wind Will Carry Us" is probably a masterpiece, his finest film since 1990's "CloseUp", and a graceful treasure in itself, one viewers must dig deep to find. Though I'll have to see it again to confirm these brash speculations.
[Mark Peranson is the editor and publisher of "Cinema Scope" (insound.com/zinestand/cscope), a contributing editor to "Shift and a regular contributor to Toronto's "Festival. His writing on film has appeared in "The Village Voice, "Chicago Reader, "Cineaction, "Take One, and "Now.]