Taste of Cherry (Ta'm e guilass)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Writer: Abbas Kiarostami
Stars: Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari
Mr. Badii drives randomly across the Tehran countryside looking for someone — anyone — who would do him one simple job. And pay well it will. A handsome sum he promises.
But, despite the widespread poverty that seemingly consumes every facet of his surroundings he’s unable to convince the strangers he meets to do this one, simple job for him.
And that job?
He needs to someone to bury him the morning after he commits suicide. He’s already dug the hole, now he just needs someone — anyone! — to throw on a few dozen shovelfuls of dirt.
As the keen, middle-aged observer in the lead role of the must-see film Taste of Cherry (1997), veteran Homayoun Ershadi delivers a performance that reminds me of Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (2007). You could watch either in a dialog-free scene for ten minutes and walk away with a thousand meanings. Their respective missions are different to be sure, yet there’s a sullen, defeatist undercurrent evident in their mannerisms. One second contemplative, the next even humorous, before becoming possibly dangerous.
Writer-Director Abbas Kiarostami lets the story unfold in a slow, poetic pace. Contemplation is given ample time in the form of long stares, gorgeous and haunting symbolism and curiosities that Mr. Badii encounters as he drives his Range Rover across the dusty landscape.
You can see the influence a film like this — a modern day Iranian classic — could have on, say, Joanthan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013). In Glazer’s masterpiece, Scarlett Johansson also roams the streets in a vehicle, stalking locals. Destiny awaits both, but we wonder, what’s the point? And, to an extent, that is the point.
Taking a page perhaps out of famed Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s playbook, the search for meaning also means breaking the fourth wall. Taste of Cherry’s coda is exactly as it should be. Some will likely want a more definitive answer, to be left spoon fed the ultimate prize. That, of course, would defeat the purpose of the journey. It’s the grey area that provokes, entices, challenges.
A soldier, religious figures, forces of nature. Is any one or any thing willing to provide the sounding board to Mr. Badii to help him reach his ultimate goal? You’ll have to watch to find out.
It may be difficult to find (try Hulu), but a film like A Taste of Cherry is a gem to be sure (it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1997). I watched it as part of Werner Herzog’s filmmaking masterclass which opened with the director imploring students to explore foreign film (German Expressionism, Neorealism in Italy, New Wave, etc.). Those unaware of the power and astonishing beauty of film culture in Iran are in for an eye-opening treat. Simple, yet complex at the same time. Everything, it would seem, does return to earth.