Monday, March 15, 2010

Through the Olive Trees

*Kiarostami*1994*103m*Iran*Zire darakhtan zeyton

Another gossamer web of a film from the Persian director. It is the third and last of the Koker trilogy, films about the hamlet of Koker in the mountains of  Iran, situated in the region struck by a great earthquake in 1992. The first, Where is the Friend's Home? (an unforgettable and simple story of the friendship of two school-children of Koker) and the second, Life and Nothing More (a film director visits Koker immediately after the calamity to contact the two buys whose friendship was the subject of the first film), have also been reviewed here. The earthquake (zalzala in Persian) is now at the time of the present third film two years in the past but we can see it's footprint in the ruined dwellings and the  simple, god fearing hill folk who with philosophical diligence re-assemble the shards of their lives.

A film crew is here in the village to make a movie and the movie is about the rather slow snail-pace process of  movie making . There is the efficient and somewhat authoritarian burqa clad assistant director Mrs. Shiva. The society doesn't come out looking puritanical or restrictive. The genders interact in a very natural and uninhibited way within the culture and ways of a country with a common unquestioningly accepted system of faith. Far from distorting it serves as  an invisible binding thread of culture and humanitarian values.

In the film in the making, Hossein and the beautiful Tahereh got married the day after the quake, spending their honeymoon in a dwelling improvised from a large piece of plastic, and now, a week later, have managed to collect some pots and pans and occupied what is left of a devastated dwelling. In real life Hossein is a relentless suitor of the lovely damsel. But he is illiterate, a lowly mason, and doesn't have a house. Neither the girl's grand-mother nor the girl will have him. The girl will not even look at him, or utter a word, or even give a sign as to her intentions, for all his importunity. Neither is he the one to give up and he keeps on like a true romeo, as he literally follows her over hill and dale. Truly an unusual courtship and love story.

And the film within the film goes on amidst the re-construction activity and the life processes of these survivors of a great natural calamity which in a stroke decimated the families and wiped out their means for survival. Kiarostami belongs to a minuscule breed of humanistic film-makers at one with their soil  who speak an easily understood language of the heart. He has been faulted for being slow and for lack of depth and complexity. As a contrast, Charlie Kaufman's movies have complexity with out depth, making them needlessly cerebral. I certainly don't find Kiarostami boring. His direction lends tension and drama  to the most ordinary objects and incidents of life and one is left inwardly smiling. This is a movie about a recent tragedy of monumental scale yet the tone is overwhelmingly joyful and affirmative. A great Oriental film.

To quote a Greek reviewer meleftheirou-1: "My heart responded, the hairs on the back of my neck responded, my being responded. No matter if my brain wasn't fully au fait with what came before. Superb doesn't begin to cover it. How he captured these (non)performances from his actors is beyond me: perhaps, unfamiliar with the conventions of film-making, they were uniquely equipped to sidestep them."

It's a simple and beautiful film about a less known, misunderstood and beautiful country. Some suggest that Kiarostami operates under constraints of censorship, and must project a rosy picture. In any case, the authenticity and creativity which characterize his films can be as little curbed as manufactured.

Above all, it is a film about that life which goes on, on and on.

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