Sunday, June 21, 2009

[DVD] Taste of Cherry (Ta'm E Guilass) (1997)

This would mark my very first venture into the world of Abbas Kiarostami's cinema, and I had to pick the Taste of Cherry based on its Palme d'Or victory, totally unaware of that mind boggling video coda at the end, and a highly debatable and analyzed one at that.

Homayoun Ershadi stars as the protagonist Mr Badii, who has such a morbid request that he's driving around looking for volunteers to fulfill, with a car load full of cash to serve as a reward. But he's not looking for any Tom, Dick and Harry to complete his wishes, which we learn to involve his suicide, and for the chosen one to return to the location to call out his name twice. If he was to respond, then the helper is to assist him out of a self-dug hole. Otherwise, 20 shovels of sand is needed to bury Mr Badii, and the helper can make away with his car load of cash, with absolutely no strings attached thereafter.

Shot mostly within the interior of his vehicle, and rarely, if not never do we see the characters interaction within the same camera frame, the narrative's punctuated with plenty of solitude and contemplative silence when Badii is on his own in search of his mark, and then filled with plenty of dialogue depending on who's making the case – Badii in trying to convince those whom he had conned into hopping into his travelling vehicle, or those that he had roped in to help – a Kurd, an Afghan and a Turk, attempting to either escape, or trying their best to talk him out of his thought. During those moments the film becomes a an extremely talky one within the close confines of the car, and leaves you constantly wondering who would finally have the upper hand.

I appreciated the last one best, from which the title is sort of touched upon. The Turkish taxidermist who once shared the same thoughts about ending his own life, and it becomes a moving piece on life itself, how with all its problems and troubles, is still something worth seeing out properly. We see the extremes of characters just amongst those three in Badii's car, where one is frightened enough to pretend that he seemed indifferent, and wanted to bail out and go back to the safety net of his routine life, uninterrupted by life's sudden challenge, and the other extreme that one preaches why he would not support Badii's quest, but does not go beyond mere words. Then there are those who are stuck in the middle, where money plays a key into covering one's heart, because it's needed to facilitate a personal gain. Life and Death concerns for a stranger seem distant compared to the immediate need to support a love one.

Given my continuous curiosity of the landscapes in Tehran, Iran, where this film was shot in, it doesn't show you much beyond the brown-orange environment of a construction site that Badii frequently uses, going almost to the top where he intends to end his life at. It seems as bleak as Badii's mission can be, with Kiarostami never flinching into giving you additional clues as to the background of this man with the singular passion, which admittedly does waver a little, leaving the ending open ended, with the coda making it all a little more complicated. To me, that little scene looked more like a making-of documentary that couldn't find its proper place in a DVD extra.

In any case, if time and the National Library permits, I'm likely to be picking up more of Kiarostami's works to see if indeed they're my cup of tea, or otherwise.

The region free DVD by The Criterion Collection is presented in letterbox format with a pristine visual presentation of the film in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Audio is monoaural in its original Farsi language with English subtitles available. Scene selection is over 14 chapters which includes the much talked about end coda.

The extras here are pretty limited, with a text based Filmography and Color Bars section to fine tune your display with. A grainy looking Theatrical Trailer (1:16) is also included, but the gem here is the Kiarostami Interview (18:40) conducted by Dr. Jamsheed Akrami, Professor of Communications at William Paterson University, where Kiarostami talks about Censorship, the Reception in the West on his films, and his Directorial Style, all of which are worth a listen to. It then rounds off with relatively shorter segments on Quentin Tarantino where he shares his thoughts on the American filmmaker, and on the inspiration from Children.

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