Revered, Innovative Director Abbas Kiarostami Dies at 76

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Acclaimed (and, by various facets of Iranian government throughout the years, criticized) Palme d’Or winning Iranian screenwriter/director, Abbas Kiarostami, died at 76 of gastrointestinal cancer on Monday, July 4. The director’s career was towering both because of the sheer excellence and undying thirst for experimentation in his work (as the Guardian points out, Jean-Luc Godard once said — as early in Kiarostami’s career as 1990 — that “film begins with DW Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami”) and for the fact that he managed to persevere as a filmmaker despite censorship and bans placed on his work by his country.

Kiarostami was born in Teheran in 1940, and was actually a painter and then a graphic designer before he became a filmmaker. After directing assorted commercials, he began working at the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (Kanun), where he was the head of the film department — a job that also provided him with the resources he needed to make his first features. (It was also through this job that his tendency to use children as his main characters arose.)

The Islamic Revolution in Iran happened only two years after his first feature film, The Report, was made. But unlike many of his artistic peers in Iran, Kiarostami decided to remain in the country following its drastic shift in governance and accepted social mores. Following that film, he made three films while still at Kanun – these films (Where Is the Friend’s Home?, And Life Goes On, and Through the Olive Trees) are often grouped together by critics as the “Koker Trilogy” because they all take place in the Northern Iranian village of Koker — though Kiarostami himself never wanted them to be considered thus.

In 1990, he shattered boundaries with Close-Up, a film that tests the limits of documentary and meta-filmmaking, with much of it having been staged. His 1997 film Taste of Cherry was the one that earned him the aforementioned prize at Cannes; it follows a man as he wanders around Tehran in his car looking for the right person to do a certain job for him, for which he’ll reward them financially. The job in question, it’s revealed, is to bury his body after he’s committed suicide.

Beyond Close-Up, his experimental curiosity was extensive: The Wind Will Carry Us gives the perspectives of many characters who are never actually seen; for the docufictional Ten, the director placed a digital camera on the dashboard of a car as his lead actress (Mania Akbar) performed somewhat improvised scenes with ten passengers (each with different, specific relationships to her) while she drove them through Tehran. (Both Ten — for its focus on women’s issues in Iran — and Taste of Cherry ran into problems with the Iranian government.) And as far as narrative experimentation goes, his Juliette Binoche-starring film, Certified Copy, was about a romantic encounter between a couple — but the audience never fully knows whether they’ve been together for years or whether they’ve just met.

Kiarostami died in Paris, where he’d travelled to seek treatment following a series of surgeries. He’s survived by his two sons, Ahmad and Bahman.

[Via the New York Times]