A Taste of Cherry (1997)

Abbas Kiarostami

Images: Long, high-angle shots of Iranian landscapes, as Badii’s Range Rover climbs hills. The sky (until the final scenes) is rarely seen. Badii always remains outdoors, refusing to enter the taxidermist’s museum or the guard’s post. Only signs of civilization/technology are large machines that seem to be designed only for moving dirt and rock from one location to another.

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Mr. Badii (played by Homayon Ershadi, an architect friend of Kiarostami) is a middle aged man who spends much of the film driving through the hill country surrounding Tehran, looking for someone to help him commit suicide. He plans to overdose on sleeping pills, then rest in a grave he has already dug for himself. He needs someone to come to the spot the next morning and either bury his body (if he has succeeded) or pull him from the hole (if he has not).

The film can essentially be broken into three acts. In each, Mr. Badii explains his plan to a potential accomplice: the first, a young Kurdish soldier, who runs frightened from the car; the second, a 30-something Afghani seminarian, who objects to the plan on religious grounds; and the third, an older taxidermist, who agrees to help because he needs the money for a relative. The film ends without revealing Badii’s fate. Instead, we see him lying in his would-be grave, until Kiarostami cuts to high contrast video footage of the director and actors recording the sound of marching troops.

A Taste of Cherry fits most easily, I think, into the Neo-Realist tradition of DeSica, Rossellini, and Ray, all of whom, like Kiarostami, employ non-professional performers, shoot largely in exteriors, and focus their cameras on “real” life, shunning sentiment in favor of objectivity. Kiarostami obviously adds a PostModern twist here, employing a bit of self-reflexivity to the film—his “it’s only a movie” coda. Some have criticized the move, but I agree with Rosenbaum:

Kiarostami is representing life in all its rich complexity, reconfiguring elements from the preceding 80-odd minutes in video to clarify what’s real and what’s concocted. Far from affirming that Taste of Cherry is “only” a movie, this wonderful ending is saying, among other things, that it’s also a movie.

In the interview included on Criterion’s DVD release, Kiarostami claims that he loves films that might cause viewers to doze, but that haunt them when they return home. I laughed out loud when he said this, because I have had that exact experience with A Taste of Cherry. I’ve been wrestling all morning with that old taxidermist. If Kiarostami is implying through him that life is worth living because of sensual pleasure (the taste of cherries) or because of human relationships (his family), then the film doesn’t really work for me. But hearing the taxidermist’s “tidy” story sandwiched between the conversation with the seminarian and the coda makes it all much more interesting and impressive. It’s that dialogue between faith, humanism, and (possibly) aesthetics that speaks to me personally.