Four Video Essays Explain the Mastery of Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (RIP)

With each film he made, the inter­na­tion­al­ly acclaimed Iran­ian film­mak­er Abbas Kiarosta­mi left crit­ics grasp­ing for superla­tives, and his death this past Mon­day has chal­lenged them to find ways to ful­ly describe the dis­tinc­tive nature of his cin­e­mat­ic mas­tery. In his New York­er obit­u­ary for Kiarosta­mi, Richard Brody calls him “sim­ply one of the most orig­i­nal and influ­en­tial direc­tors in the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma,” as well as “the first Iran­ian film­mak­er who expand­ed the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma not mere­ly in a soci­o­log­i­cal sense but in an artis­tic one,” whose “tena­cious, bold, rest­less orig­i­nal­i­ty” brought the world to Iran­ian cin­e­ma and Iran­ian cin­e­ma to the world.

Brody nar­rat­ed video essays on two films of Kiarostami’s. He calls 1999’s The Wind Will Car­ry Us (above) “the great­est of Kiarostami’s Iran­ian films,” a show­case for his com­bi­na­tion of “patient and lov­ing atten­tion to char­ac­ters drawn from dai­ly life and to their land­scapes with a pre­cise, can­ny, and fierce dis­til­la­tion of con­crete phe­nom­e­na into bril­liant, ver­tig­i­nous, and lib­er­at­ing abstrac­tions.” In 2012’s Tokyo-set Like Some­one in Love, Kiarostami’s final film, he “found him­self freer than usu­al to depict such ordi­nary events as a woman, her hair uncov­ered, in a bed­room with a man. But, fac­ing the seem­ing­ly lim­it­less free­dom of depic­tion, Kiarosta­mi inge­nious­ly revers­es the equa­tion; start­ing with the title and con­tin­u­ing with the very first shot, he ques­tions the dif­fer­ence between sim­u­la­tion and real­i­ty, between imi­ta­tion and being.”

Audi­ences every­where thrilled to Kiarostami’s treat­ment of those con­cepts, poten­tial­ly abstruse in the hands of oth­er film­mak­ers but nev­er in his, when he put them at the cen­ter of 2010’s Juli­ette Binoche-star­ing Cer­ti­fied Copy, the first film he made out­side Iran. In his video essay “The Dou­ble Life of James and Juli­ette: Mys­ter­ies and Per­cep­tions in Kiarostami’s Cer­ti­fied Copy,” cin­e­ma schol­ar Peter Labuza breaks down this many-lay­ered, mul­ti­fac­eted, mul­ti­lin­gual work, in one sense a no-frills rela­tion­ship dra­ma about a man and a woman who may or may not be or have been mar­ried, and in anoth­er a “com­plete and total enig­ma” deeply con­cerned with “the nature and role of per­cep­tion.”

Gra­ham Bol­lard’s “The Min­i­mal­ist Cin­e­ma of Abbas Kiarosta­mi” focus­es on the direc­tor’s aes­thet­ic choic­es, such as often shoot­ing inside cars, whose space “helps define the main char­ac­ter’s point of view” and repeat­ing a shot in such a way that “we, the audi­ence, are forced to view it in dif­fer­ent ways that take on dif­fer­ent mean­ings,” draw­ing visu­al evi­dence from Kiarostami’s Iran­ian films like Taste of Cher­ryTen, and Close-Up, from which Hamid Dabashi’s book Close Up: Iran­ian Cin­e­ma, Past, Present, and Future takes its name. The essay ends with a quote from it, describ­ing Kiarostami’s work as “there to fil­ter the world and thus strip it of all its cul­tures, nar­ra­tiv­i­ties, author­i­ties, and ide­olo­gies” — no small accom­plish­ment for one life­time in cin­e­ma.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Inside the Renais­sance of Iran­ian Cin­e­ma

Watch a Video Essay on the Poet­ic Har­mo­ny of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Film­mak­ing, Then View His Major Films Free Online

The Geo­met­ric Beau­ty of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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