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Mourning the Loss of Iranian Director Abbas Kiarostami

Iranian film Director Abbas Kiarostami has died in Paris at the age of 76. He had been undergoing surgery in Tehran, but then traveled to France for treatment of cancer. The multi award-winning film director was one of the most influential filmmakers of the last 30 years. He made 40 films, including documentaries. He won the Palme D’Or for his film Taste of Cherry in 1997 — the only Iranian to ever win this award.

Unlike many other artists who fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution broke out, Kiorastami felt it was important for him to stay.

Iranian Director Abbas Kiarostami. (Image: Pedro J Pacheco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Iranian Director Abbas Kiarostami. (Image: Pedro J Pacheco via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)
Abbas Kiarostami:

 (Image via Reza Koushaeian Screenshot/YouTube)
Leila Hatami/Shirin. (Image: Luís Nunes via Screenshot/YouTube)

Shirin was the very first Abbas Kiarostami film I watched. It was one of the most refreshing and unique cinematic experiences I had ever encountered. The film is a series of close-ups of 113 actresses who are watching a film.

We never see the film they watch, but we hear it. The story we hear is a powerful 12th century Persian tale called Khosrow and Shirin. It’s similar to Romeo & Juliet, with themes of female self-sacrifice written by Persian poet Nazami. The whole film is the faces reacting to the story they watch.

 (Image via Reza Koushaeian Screenshot/YouTube)
Juliette Binoche/Shirin. (Image: Luís Nunes via Screenshot/YouTube)

It played with my expectations of a film more than any other film I had come across, and it left me completely inspired and thinking about the potentials of cinema in a whole different light.

It’s a film that opens up the viewer’s imagination.

 (Image via Reza Koushaeian Screenshot/YouTube)
Nezami, the Persian poet, was said to have works as strong as Shakespeare, and was known for creating very positive images of women/Shirin. (Image: Luís Nunes via Screenshot/YouTube)

It feels like reading a book. I also spent the first 30 minutes waiting for the characters to walk out of the cinema, and for the rest of the film to continue. When time continued and we still were on the faces, I thought any second now we will get on with the rest of the film.

Then toward the end I thought, what if they stay in the cinema the whole film? Wow… So I accepted this could be it. And went with it, trying to imagine what the actresses might be seeing in the film they are watching, but equally as absorbed in the faces of these women, and what they might be thinking.

 (Image via Reza Koushaeian Screenshot/YouTube)
Each shot is a close-up, with no camera movements/Shirin. (Image: Luís Nunes via Screenshot/YouTube)

The really interesting thing that I found out later in Hamideh Razavi’s 27-minute documentary about the making of Shirin, called Taste of Shirin, is that the actresses were not reacting to the film or sound of the film at all. They performed following Kiarostami’s special improvisational technique, and were given a mark above his camera to watch.

They weren’t even in a cinema — they had to just pretend! Also, the story the women were watching was not even chosen until the women’s reactions were already shot.

 (Image via Reza Koushaeian Screenshot/YouTube)
The story heard on screen is a mythological love triangle with particular problems/Shirin. (Image: Luís Nunes via Screenshot/YouTube)

Kiarostami was interested in the audience, and believed cinema was not much without its audience. In classical Kiarostami style of a “film within a film,” Shirin is the story of the empathy of audiences — the audiences that are watching the empathy of the other audiences.

When asked why he chose an all female cast for the film Kiarostami replied 'Because women are more beautiful, complicated and sensational.' / Shirin. (Image via Reza Koushaeian Screenshot/YouTube)
When asked why he chose an all female cast for the film, Kiarostami replied: ‘Because women are more beautiful, complicated, and sensational.’/Shirin. (Image: Luís Nunes via Screenshot/YouTube)

It sounds complex, but when you watch the film, it’s simple, beautiful, and absorbing. Below is a trailer to Shirin;

This is how I would like to remember Abbas Kiarostami as I re-visit one of his many great films.

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Jessica Kneipphttp://www.jessicakneipp.net
Jessica grew up in the tropics of North Australia. She writes about films, and occasionally gets to write and direct them. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel." However, on some real travels she spotted a polar bear while visiting the Arctic, and has enjoyed the view of the Mongolian plains on a train from Russia to China. Her favorite fruit is pomegranate and her most memorable gift is a Super 8 camera from her husband, which she is keen to shoot some footage of Antarctic icebergs on one day.  

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