Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Disappearing into the Distance and Getting Closer All the Time: Vision, Position, and Thought in Kiarostami's the Wind Will Carry Us

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Disappearing into the Distance and Getting Closer All the Time: Vision, Position, and Thought in Kiarostami's the Wind Will Carry Us

Article excerpt

ONE DOMINANT THREAD IN DESCRIPTIONS Of postrevolutionary Iranian cinema has been an interest in what we do not see. The relative absence of central female figures from the miseen-scène- or, at least, their veiling- has been the most obvious example, perhaps, but on a structural and narrative level much of Iranian art cinema is also dependent on the unseen or unstated. Absence and a reliance on the hidden for the advancement or stalling of the unfolding story is particularly true of Abbas Kiarostami's work. In this article, I want to discuss how the importance of the hidden, the veiled, the absent, or the invisible is balanced in Kiarostami's films with revelation, specifically to see how he uses camera distance, position, and the ability to see to advance his cinema of questioning and incompletely told narratives in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999).

As Iranian film has been widely celebrated by filmmakers and film critics from elsewhere since the early 1990s- and while those most familiar with the circumstances of production worry about its future- Kiarostami remains a particular cause celebre. The praise of figures such as Godard, Herzog, and Kurosawa has been mirrored by that of many influential critics, Jonathan Rosenbaum being perhaps the most visible in the United States, and by polls and opinion that, following the success of Taste of Cherry (1997) at Cannes, established Kiarostami at the top of the international tree (Mulvey 24; Saeed-Vafa and Rosenbaum 6; Sterriti 21). And I should probably state at the outset that his work gives mea great deal of pleasure and that he interests me partly because his films, fairly consistently, make me think about the nature of the medium. They are commonly self-reflexive, concerned with how we see things and why, frequently including characters who more or less directly stand in for the director. I think that the films do give me some substantial reward in their presentation and revelation of landscape and culture, but I would agree- especially, but not exclusively, with regard to Kiarostami- with these words with which Shohini Chaudhuri and Howard Finn conclude a recent article on New Iranian cinema in Screen:

The appeal of [these films] in the West may have less to do with an exoticized "other" under conditions of repression than with selfrecognition. The open images of Iranian film remind us of the loss of such images in most contemporary cinema, the loss of cinema's particular space for creative interpretation and critical reflection. (57)

One of Kiarostami's formal signatures in film is the long take/long shot epitomized by the end of Through the Olive Trees (1994), where it serves both to leave incomplete (orto disguise) the narrative and, as a consequence, to invite the authence either to complete it according to their own desires or to leave it incomplete.1 (Critics have tended not to distinguish between these two options.) Information important to mastery of the story is kept from the spectator. Less is more. "Show less; tell less," Kiarostami contends (Lennon). The long shot/long take gives us more landscape and more time to absorb it of course: time for contemplation, for consideration of what we see- and, often, what we do not. And indeed, although it may obscure events somewhat, as at the end of Olive Trees- as Hossein follows Tahereh Into the landscape, catches up with her, tiny in the distance, and turns back- it would in general be more accurate to say that this method shows us the events, but from a different perspective. Thus, at the end of Life and Nothing More (1992), the length and steepness of the hill and the relationship of mutual assistance between driver/director from the city and man with the gas canister from the provinces could hardly be more thoroughly or convincingly conveyed than it is by this long-shot/long-take technique. Whereas we may yearn to know what Tahereh tells Hossein in the olive trees, in this instance we do not need to know the words exchanged, as we see the works exchanged. …

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