Film Independent Tue 7.5.2016

Blurring Lines, Finding Truth: Celebrating the Films of Abbas Kiarostami

Yesterday on July 4, in-between shuddering along to the percussive artillery blasts of our neighborhood’s myriad illegal fireworks displays, I was saddened to learn (via Twitter) of the passing of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, whose brilliant 30-year career came to an abrupt end at age 76 following a brief battle with gastrointestinal cancer. It then seemed a little ironic that on a day specifically designated to commemorate American independence, my thoughts returned again and again to Kiarostami’s work, which steadily grew beyond the director’s origins in the Iranian New Wave Cinema of the late ‘60s to encompass a wholly global perspective—with films set everywhere from Japan to Italy, and featuring the talents of top international casts and crew.

Kiarostami’s films were often highly inventive, bending time and space and using shifting realities to deconstruct personal relationships—relationships that themselves were often the vehicle for cannily obfuscated social- and political commentary. But despite his formal playfulness, Kiarostami’s subject was seldom Film itself. Instead, his focus was the dynamics between human beings, whether between individuals in microcosm or in more institutionalized settings, like a courtroom or film set. He somehow managed to be conceptual without being cold, empathetic without being sentimental.

So in honor of the late director’s career (and for the benefit of the uninitiated) here are some recommended Kiarostami titles both ponder and enjoy:

The Koker Trilogy, 1987-1994 (Where is the Friend’s Home?, And Life Goes On, Through the Olive Trees)

Beginning with the simple tale of a young boy’s duty-bound quest to return his chum’s missing notebook in the titular city of Koker by the Caspian Sea, Kiarostami crafted an intricate, densely layered trilogy of films around the theme of responsibility—specifically the responsibility we feel towards those whose lives intersect with our own only briefly, but profoundly. Each film in the trilogy “breaks” the reality of its predecessors to explore the off-screen stories that informed their creation.


Kiarostami’s 1990 masterpiece uses as its jumping-off point the strange true-life tale of a bumbling con man who inserts himself into the lives of a gullible family in Tehran by impersonating the famous Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The hybrid docu-narrative follows the ensuing court case, as well as a reenactment of the crime performed by the actual individuals who were involved IRL, with Kiarostami expertly and effectively blurring the lines between fiction and reality throughout.

Certified Copy

The director’s penultimate film, released in 2010, was surprise international art house hit, telling the story of one long, simultaneously-fraught-and-idyllic afternoon spent in conversation together by a man and woman while wandering around a picaresque Italian village. The scenery may be beautiful, but the conversation is slippery. Are the two lovers? Married? Estranged? Complete strangers? On a first date? The dialogue never makes it exactly clear—and that’s the point: seeing what shared truths and commonalities exist at the soft edges of all of these separate relationships.