Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Car-Seat Conversations Inspire Iranian Director

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Car-Seat Conversations Inspire Iranian Director

Article excerpt

Iranian movies still seem like exotic territory to many Americans, but they have a steadily growing audience thanks to their penchant for touching, compassionate stories about characters and situations recognizable around the globe.

The filmmaker most responsible for Iranian cinema's renown is Abbas Kiarostami, who earned praise for gentle dramas like "And Life Goes On" and "Through the Olive Trees" before winning the Cannes filmfest's coveted Golden Palm Award for "Taste of Cherry," an exquisitely filmed meditation on life, death, and the search for meaning in a frequently uncaring world.

Kiarostami is back on American screens this season with "The Wind Will Carry Us," his most beautiful and challenging film to date. Its beauty comes from its engaging portrait of villagers leading quiet lives amid the unassuming riches of the Iranian countryside. Its challenge comes from Kiarostami's belief in what he calls an "unfinished cinema" that refuses to tie cinematic stories - or human experience - into neatly wrapped packages, leaving deliberate gaps in the narrative to allow each audience member to perceive it in a unique way.

The main character of "The Wind Will Carry Us" is a filmmaker who visits a small town to document a funeral rite that will take place after the death of an ailing old woman. But the woman has too much life in her to die on schedule, so the filmmaker is stuck in the village much longer than expected - chatting with local citizens, hanging out with a ditch-digger whose face is never seen, and racing his car to a distant hilltop to answer his cellphone. The movie draws much of its power from the subtle tension between his modernized mentality and the more tranquil rhythms of his rural environment.

Viewers familiar with Kiarostami's work will spot one of his trademarks in this new picture: a car threading its way along a narrow road as we hear the conversation taking place inside. Car- seat conversations occur frequently in his films, and people were eager to ask about this during his visit to this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, where he received the prestigious Akira Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement.

"People who like my films and people who don't like my films ask me that: 'How long do we have to watch people driving?' " he said with a smile when the subject arose at a press conference. "But a great deal of my life seems to be spent in cars. I find it a good place to think about things, so a lot of my films are written as I drive.... I also enjoy giving rides to strangers and establishing dialogue with them. An automobile is a very private space. Because you don't know them - and you're seeing them in profile, not face to face - people open up very quickly. …

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