Taste of Cherry (Ta’m e guilass , Iran-France, 1997)

Let me out!

The Favourite continues to be a favourite with critics and audiences (in the UK at least) and I thought it was terrible. The winner of Cannes film festival’s Palme d’Or should be a guarantor of quality but (for me) Abbas Kiarostami’s joint winner is an unfunny joke of a movie (The Guardian’s Bradshaw places it as his second best winner).

The film’s narrative, a man (Homayoun Ershadi) is on the verge of suicide, is certainly not funny and he trails around the outskirts of Tehran looking for someone to bury him. The rather interminable driving around asking strangers to help him doesn’t bother me and some of the performances are excellent; particularly the young soldier played by, like most of the cast, an amateur. Apparently when the car’s passengers are being filmed the driver was Kiarostami himself and much of the film is improvised.

A treatise on the meaning of life is fair game for an arthouse film and I’m not necessarily expecting any particularly profound answer but when you find yourself wishing the protagonist would hurry up and do himself in something has gone seriously awry. Possibly my critical faculties have gone wonky; due to illness I’ve already seen 24 films this year including the five-hour plus Happy Hour. However, I’m not alone in thinking this film is a betrayal of the contract between filmmaker and audience – which I believe should be one of ‘good faith’. The ‘betrayal’ here is that Kiarostami seems to me to be trying to conjure a film out of nothing and even though he fails to do so he still takes it to Cannes. His appearance at the festival was in doubt until the last moment because the Iranian authorities were suspicious of his motives and he arrived to a standing ovation. Of course it is right to celebrate filmmakers working in oppressive circumstances but give him a Palme d’Or!?

I may be overstating the case as I was intrigued throughout most of the film but, as is often the case for arthouse cinema, the ‘payoff’ at the ending is key to giving focus to what we’ve seen (and sometimes endured). Here Kiarostami gives us his film crew calling a wrap. I remember as a kid being told not to end stories with ‘it was only a dream’ and for him to tell his audiences ‘it was only a film’…

I’m not anti-Kiarostami, I thought The Wind Will Carry Us (Bad ma ra khahad bord, Iran-France, 1999) was great, but save me from Taste of Cherry. Spoiler: I’ll save you, that is the ‘profound statement’: ‘life is worth living because of the taste of cherry’.

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