Taste of Cherry
Cinephiles love to talk about the thrill of pure cinema – the jolting joy of the spectacle that only the medium of film can give us. Some find it in Alfred Hitchcock, others find it in Andy Warhol. I found it in the last place I expected it to be: in the difference, the transition between the two final scenes in Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry.
The premise of the film is unusual: a man, Badii (Homayon Ershadi), seeks to die, to kill himself. But he cannot do it alone; he needs help, and so he asks virtually everyone he meets to assist him. The movie is the record of his chance encounters, as he drives around streets and work sites of Tehran.
One person tries to talk him out of it, reasonably; another flees in panic. Finally, Bagheri (Abdolrahman Bagheri), who needs the money, agrees to fill up the already-dug grave, if there is a deceased Badii in it, the following morning.
So far, the film is already remarkable: both obsessive and patient in its slow, steady, accumulating minimalism, and in its threading together of the random and the fated, the contingent and the destined.
Eventually, we arrive at a scene that does not really survive the transition to video or DVD, a scene that must be seen in a giant, darkened cinema. As Badii lies in his desolate hole, flashes of lightning punctuate the total blackout of night – and illuminate the movie theatre we are in, too. The sound of the thunder rumbles our seats and our souls.
With its unbearably poignant mystery of this man’s destiny, the scene takes us close to an absolute experience of existential negation – and more powerfully so than any horror movie. It is an ultimate experience of the very limit between life and death, which only cinema could evoke in this precise way.
Then Taste of Cherry breaks off and leaps to yet another level. We pass, in a cut, to the airy lightness of a low-fi video. We see the director, the crew, passing soldiers, fields. Louis Armstrong’s “St James Infirmary” fills the soundtrack. It is not a mere Brechtian effect, no mere unmasking of the illusion of fictional film.
It is, in fact, a breathtaking transition from one level of reality to another – one in which life, mundane and beautiful, is still possible, a world in which the taste of cherry remains something extremely wondrous.
© Adrian Martin July 2015