Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taste of Cherry

*Abbas Kiarostami*Iran*95m*1997

Roger Ebert used the term "the emperors new clothes" in connection with this film, to express (in his estimation) the movie's lack off significant merit, it's stealing the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the director's established reputation notwithstanding. Since in movies even more than in other things, the distinction between the sublime and the ludicrous is thin, I decided to risk a viewing, to encounter a yet unknown director. All too obvious is the similarity of the movie in terms of plot, theme and even the spot selected for a contemplated suicide, to the recent movie Goodbye Solo.

A middle aged, well to do gentleman is moving around in a Land Rover van, looking around for some one willing to take up the job of burying him after he kills himself with a sleeping pill overdose. He has dug a pit to creep into and the assistant has only to cover him with earth the next morning, or to help him out if the attempt fails. The pit is on top of a bare mountain around which excavations for some construction project are in progress. There are scores of laborers amidst the grind of excavation machinery, with a haze of dust rising from the ground. The dug up mountain is itself a symbol of the grave and the mortality of the flesh.

The first person he enlists is an army recruit who listens to Mr. Badii's entreaties and offer of a large sum of money, but simply runs away in fright at the first opportunity. The second, a student in a seminary, offers various religious arguments to dissuade him. The third, an elderly taxidermist, talks about the bounties of the universe and the folly of the contemplated course, but agrees to proffer the sought for assistance.

It is a riveting, beautiful, philosophical contemplation of a movie. The car as it winds in circular loops towards the summit of the hill (mud pit would be a better term) is an ideal venue for the dialogues. Ershadi in the lead role conveys  pathos and fear, and a very worldly proficiency of persuasion.

To have supplied information about the background and reasons for his wanting to die would have been against the purpose, since it is a starkly simple meditation about suicide in all its generality, as a choice which is available to human beings. Badii does lie down in the grave, but does he swallow the pills, and if he does, do they do the job? These questions are left wisely open. Life is a zig-zag of decisions taken and their consequences. The project of suicide is a series of moves, as in a chess game, which must be negotiated before the stage of checkmate is arrived at. The many forks and turns on the mountain road as the Land Rover circulates around the hill are perhaps an apt image for the tortuous, uncertain and perilous journey of life. The film leaves the mystery at the center of things untouched.

Perhaps no one has put the issue in more lucid perspective than old Hamlet in his famous speech. The journey contemplated is a leap into the unknown, since no reports exist. Had it offered a sure escape from the undeniable sufferings of life, it may have been logically sustainable. One may know what one is escaping from but any assumption of what lies across the border is just that, an assumption. And in any case, since the fever of life is not endless, at least the ongoing installment of it, one may as well summon the courage to battle it out, and bide one's time a bit more.
Criterion Essay


Nick Duval said...

I have wanted to see this film for a long time. Have you seen Kiarostami's "Ten", which was similarly insulted by Roger Ebert? It was on the Sight and Sound 30 of the Decade list, and I thought it was kind of a strange and interesting way to tell a narrative.

S M Rana said...

@Nick Duval

I could not find Ten.