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Kiarostami’s Cherries Leave You with a Bittersweet Taste!

Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Taste of Cherry’ is one of his most renowned works which was released in 1997. In the midst of heavy censorship in the Iranian entertainment sector, Kiarostami chose to make a movie about possibly one of the most taboo subjects, especially for the religion of Islam and in a country such as Iran. ‘Taste of Cherry’ is inherently about one man’s path to seeking an end to his suffering, i.e. killing oneself through the means of suicide. However, suicide is just not limited to the act of taking one’s life. For Kiarostami, and for the protagonist of this movie, the act of suicide also entails providing a proper burial for his own body, so as to maintain the sanctity of one’s body which is provided by God, i.e. Allah.

The Black Screen and the Words of Theological Wisdom

The movie starts with a black screen and the words – In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful in Arabic, which clearly indicates a few things that we will encounter in the course of the movie. First, that there will certainly be religious connotations in the movie. Second that either by conscious choice or to escape the harsh criticism of the censor board of Iran, Kiarostami chose to include this line at the beginning of his film. Third, and last, is perhaps to convey to the viewers that the subject of his film is very sincere and forbidden, therefore, the viewers should keep the image of Allah in their minds as they watch the film.

The Journey of Mr. Badii and the Range Rover

Kiarostami’s choice of actors and locations to shoot his films are beyond the understanding of viewers. He always knew what he wanted to convey and what the best way would be to do that. Here, to convey the ideation of suicide and the action of committing suicide, Kiarostami pushes his protagonist to drive around in a beat-down Range Rover and through hills and construction sites. Mr. Badii is the epitome of a man on the verge of death, or perhaps even, a man who has died in all sense of the word except literalness. Most of the movie is unpleasant to the eye as the colors are either very vibrant or there is too much and too less going on at the same time. The scenes of a lone SUV being driven up and down mountains are connotative of how Mr. Badii feels in this dreary world – all alone and hopeless.

The Range Rover is metaphoric of this world that Mr. Badii belongs to. This world that is very mechanical and materialistic; this world that continues to move on, no matter how many people are suffering and dying, every moment; this world that is itself so damaged and broken, yet continues to serve a purpose, i.e. to house the bodies of humans that are alive in it and continue to come into this world. Mr. Badii abandons the Range Rover before he leaves his apartment at night to go on one final journey, i.e. to the site of his grave. The Range Rover is abandoned, just like Mr. Badii abandons the world by taking sleeping pills.

The Rejection and the Dejection and the Resignation

As a viewer, it was rather irritating and painful to see Mr. Badii getting rejected again and again for a task as simple as that of “throwing 20 spadefuls of earth”. Mr. Badii, from the beginning of the movie, has one task at hand, i.e. to find one person who will listen to his request and accept it without holding any strings attached over Mr. Badii.

At the beginning of the film, Mr. Badii picks up a young soldier and drives him around as he makes conversation with him just for the sake of making a conversation. He offers 200,000 tomans to the young soldier for a task that required the boy to show up at 6 in the morning, the next day, call Mr. Badii’s name twice, and then either help him out of the hole or throw 20 spadefuls of earth into the hole, so as to bury the body. The task entailed a hefty sum of money. Money, which drives every force in this world, and in the world of Mr. Badii as well. Yet, the boy was adamant about refusing his request and then escaped the moment he got the opportunity. It was hurtful to see a man who is so much in pain and suffering that he has gone to such a length as to dig his own grave, yet still not be assisted in the ease of his pain, not even for monetary gains.

Credits: AMP
Caption: The three people who got into Mr. Badii’s Range Rover, in order.

Mr. Badii is driving around in a country where thinking of suicide is not just a sin but also a punishment by law. He chooses to divulge his wishes to those he picks up after making conversation to see whether he could trust them or not. And so it is quite a blow to his morale when he is rejected by these people for such reasons as religion and ethics. At last, Mr. Badii picks up a taxidermist, Mr. Bagheri, who has a sick child and therefore is in need of money and agrees to help Mr. Badii even though he continuously wishes not to do it. Mr. Bagheri is someone who can sympathize and empathize with Mr. Badii’s pain as he himself is a survivor. By the end of the movie, we see how Mr. Badii has resigned to the idea of being properly buried even though he goes ahead to lie down in his grave, as the last thing he does. This infinite resignation comes from a place that we viewers can not simply understand unless we have experienced it firsthand.

The End of the Body

For Mr. Badii, the end of his body begins when he lies down in the grave that he dug for himself. Here, the body means one’s physical self that is detached from one’s mental self. Like, the parts that make up the Range Rover, similarly, the body is a part of the machinery that made up the machine that Mr. Badii was. Once the night falls and we see Mr. Badii inside his home, the suspense of what will happen next seems to disappear from the film. Because it becomes clear as to what is to follow next. Mr. Badii does take the pills, he does get into a taxi, while his neighbour, who lives below him, gets on with his life as if nothing is happening; he does reach the site of his own grave, he does sit by the tree and smokes a fag, he does then lie down in the grave and closes his eyes after seeing the shrouded moon for the last time.

Credits: ASF

The movie, for many critics and viewers, should’ve ended there. However, Kiarostami adds a small clip of post-production of the film where the soldiers are seen running on the side of the mountain and Mr. Badii, or Homayoun Ershadi, is seen well and alive and smoking another cigarette and even offering one to Kiarostami. The movie takes away all the power of being just a fictional piece of work. It transcends the realm of both Fiction and Reality. The scenes of characters sitting in the vehicle, as the vehicle continues to move, and talking to each other is nothing but each of them talking to us, the viewers, because Kiarostami himself sits in the passenger seat when he records the driver and the driver seat when he records the passenger. The wall which separates the viewer and the characters breaks apart when we realize that it is not just a movie, but perhaps more real than the real world we are living in.

To sum it all up, A. S. Hamrah’s review states: “It [Taste of Cherry] is meant to conceal, even to frustrate. Instead of tying the story up neatly, its ending does something else.

This indeed describes the essence of this film that Kiarostami has bestowed upon the world, but not everyone can comprehend it this way. Kiarostami’s Cherries are not Tasteless, but rather Bittersweet.

Yusuf Aziz is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan

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Written by Yusuf Aziz

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