Abbas Kiarostami had one of the most acclaimed filmographies of any working director when he died Monday at the age of 76, but the godfather of the Iranian New Wave was expected to make a major change during the next chapter of his career by exploring more experimental work like art installations and performance art.
Kiarostami had told former MoMA senior curator Laurence Kardish, who first met the filmmaker at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, that he was very serious about moving beyond traditional cinema and being accepted by the art world. “He was thinking about ways of expressing himself in installation art and performance,” Kardish told IndieWire, adding that Kiarostami had written multiple live performance pieces that resembled plays. “He was very interested in new modes of expression.” The filmmaker has also ventured into the realm of photography in recent years.
This is not to say that Kiarostami was done with traditional cinema. The director had even teased out details of his next film project as recently as last December, when IndieWire reported that his upcoming feature would be “Walking With the Wind,” a film set in China that Juliette Binoche described as being “about a cleaning lady taking care of thousands of rooms in a big building.” Binoche starred in Kiarostami’s 2010 “Certified Copy” but was not going to act in “Walking with the Wind,” which was expected to star an Iranian actress and a largely Chinese cast. Kiarostami had previously told Variety the movie was about “impossible love.”
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“My impression was that it was going to go on on parallel tracks — that he would continue to do this experimental kind of work on one track while at the same time continuing to make feature films,” Iranian cinema expert and film critic Godfrey Cheshire told IndieWire. “He had always had an experimental dimension to his filmmaking that was very evident in the first shorts he did in the seventies.” Kiarostami was also attached to direct a project set in Apulia, Italy called “Horizontal Process,” which he co-wrote with acclaimed screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, according to IMDb Pro.
Some of the work Kiarostami did between feature films hinted at his interest in areas outside of conventional movies. He had recently completed an experimental project called “24 Frames,” a collection of 24 four-and-a-half minute tableaus shot over a three-year period. A portion of the project screened during the Lumiere tribute to Martin Scorsese last October, but the work had never been shown in its entirety, according to Cheshire. “If people are expecting to see another Kiarostami feature, that’s not what this is,” Cheshire said, adding that the project was more akin to something that would be seen in a museum.
In 2007, MoMA presented the most comprehensive exhibition of Kiarostami’s work ever organized in the U.S., including his 2003 documentary “Five: Dedicated to Ozu,” which is comprised of five long shots from an Iranian beach, each lasting roughly 15 minutes. The experimental doc premiered at the 2003 NHK Asian Film Festival and screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 before appearing at MoMA. “He’s had his work shown in spaces other than traditional movie screens,” Kardish said, adding that “Five” is a “sublime, meditative” piece. “He was very happy about that.”
To watch Kiarostami’s “Five,” click the video below.