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One of the true masters of contemporary
cinema, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has won not only the admiration
of audiences and critics worldwide, but also the support of directors as
distinguished as Jean-Luc Godard, Nanni Moretti (who made a short film about
opening one of Kiarostami's films in his theater in Rome), Chris Marker, and
Akira Kurosawa, who has said of Kiarostami's "extraordinary" films: "Words
cannot describe my feelings about them and I simply advise you to see his
films... When Satyajit Ray passed on, I was very depressed. But after seeing
Kiarostami's films, I thanked God for giving us just the right person to
take his place."
Though Kiarostami emerged in the West as a major filmmaker in the early
'90s--with films like
and Through the Olive Trees--he had
already been making films in Iran for two decades. Born on June 22nd 1940 in
Tehran, Kiarostami was interested in the arts from an early age.
In 1969--the year that saw the birth of the Iranian New Wave with Dariush
Mehrjui's seminal film "The Cow" Kiarostami helped to set up a filmmaking
department at the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and
Young Adults. The department's debut production was Kiarostami's own first
film, the twelve-minute Bread and Alley, a charming, neo-realist gem about a
small boy's perilous walk home from school. The department would go on to
become one of Iran's most famous film studios, producing not only
Kiarostami's films, but also such modern Iranian classics as The
Bashu, the Little Stranger.
Though Kiarostami's films have been compared at various times to those of
Satyajit Ray, Vittorio de Sica, Eric Rohmer, or Jacques Tati, they remain
uniquely Kiarostamian. Effortlessly simple and conceptually complex in equal
measure; poetic, lyrical, meditative, self-reflexive and increasingly
sophisticated, they mix fiction and documentary in unique ways, often
presenting fact as fiction and fiction as fact. (Kiarostami has said "We can
never get close to the truth except through lying.")
In the 28 years since Bread and Alley, Kiarostami has made more than 20
films, including fiction features, educational shorts, feature-length
documentaries, and a series of films for television. He has also written
screenplays for other directors, most notably The
White Balloon, for his former
assistant Jafar Panahi.
But it was not until the late '80s that his films began to be shown outside
Iran. And Life Goes On (1992)--the first of Kiarostami's films to be shown
at the New York Film Festival--and Through the Olive Trees (1994), the last
two parts of what has become known as the Earthquake Trilogy (started with
Where is the Friend's House in 1987) were the films that made
Kiarostami's reputation in the West. In 1996 he was honored with a
retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, and last year
he came to the Cannes Film Festival at the eleventh hour with Taste of
Cherry, only to walk away with the grand prize, becoming the first Iranian
director ever to win the Palme d'Or.
Taste of Cherry the best film of the year in the international
edition of Time magazine, Richard Corliss wrote: "The film's artful
simplicity, its respect for each speaker's beliefs, its refusal to
sentimentalize: all underline the director's strategy of art. Let the rest
of the film world ride a rocket to excess; Kiarostami will find a quiet
place and listen to a man's heart, right up until it stops beating.
And then he will listen some more."
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