Thank you to our community partner at the University of Michigan’s Iranian Graduate Students Association.
An introduction by Ashkan Kazemi, President of the Iranian Graduate Student Association at the University of Michigan
“A few years ago when I was at a challenging moment in life and facing a lot of philosophical questions, a friend recommended watching “Taste of Cherry” by Abbas Kiarostami. After watching the film I felt like the burden was lifted from my shoulders and I perceived the world differently. That was my first encounter with Kiarostami’s work and he had already saved my soul. So when he passed away a few years ago, I felt like I owed it to him to see more of his films. I was genuinely surprised by what I was seeing; watching his films felt like reading old Iranian poems and his (mostly) non-actor cast reminded me of my childhood friends, the people that sat next to me in a Tehran taxi ride and my grandpa who lives in northern Iran.
Kiarostami’s portrayals are honest and lifelike. He showed the lives of regular people and was more invested in having them tell their stories than telling a tale of his own. He has said in various interviews he doesn’t want his actors and actresses to act their parts; he wants them to live it. With a few exceptions, Kiarostami was never interested in choosing famous people for his roles. In fact, he almost always pointed his camera towards people you never see in films; like a soldier from western Iran, an Afghan construction worker and his clergyman friend, an elementary schooler from a village in northern Iran or a young bride who refuses to show her face to a stranger.
Kiarostami was an optimistic proponent of life. “Where is the friend’s house?” was made during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s. “Life and nothing more” (the sequel) was made after a devastating earthquake happened in the same area. Kiarostami made other films in times or places of major social challenges. Yet his approach was not to reflect on the issues explicitly and instead portrayed life through the eyes of people living through the challenges of their time. In a way, this allows his audience to experience the life these people lived while simultaneously showing you that life goes on, no matter what.
Kiarostami’s work is “life and nothing more”. You rarely see his films take on subjects that are not universal. Most of his work reflects on the day to day lives of regular people. His approach of speaking a universal language while preserving (mostly Iranian) culture and scenery is what makes his films truly unique and fascinating both to an Iranian and foreign audience. There is no better way of learning about a culture than living it and going to Abbas Kiarostami: A Retrospective film series is a great way of doing that with the Iranian culture.”