The fifth of July marks the first death anniversary of Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), who specialized in a kind of realist-parable film-making that, despite its apparent simplicity, made him one of the greatest directors of our time. His death at the age of 76 came as a shock to the cinematic world.
It is hard to say something new about Abbas Kiarostami. Set against his apparent simplicity was something highly sophisticated and self-aware about the act of film-making, and being a film-maker and public figure. Born on the first of July, 1940, he had undergone four operations but did not know severity of his illness until shortly before he died in Paris in 2016 from cancer. He is the only Iranian director to ever be awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or.
He played a key role in promoting Iranian cinema. It was Kiarostami who paved the way for other directors to shine at world festivals by introducing Iranian art-house cinema, which is internationally praised for its rich language and realist themes. Kiarostami’s films could be opaque, sometimes baffling and even exasperating; but always captivating, and utterly distinctive. Many contemporary film-makers see him as their role model. The influence of his oeuvre could be seen in cinema from around the globe.
That’s what compelled us to jot down few words in honor of this great film-maker. He made many intriguing, if contrived and inert, movies, more than half of which never saw the silver screen in Iran. He was a film-maker poet; he wrote and painted, his art, just like his films, was simplistic and profound. He did manage to reduce all that poetry, decorative, design, photography, art and literature into a single frame. This is what made his movies unique and special.
Today, Kiarostami’s cinema belongs not only to Iran but to the whole world. His unique take on motion picture turned him into an auteur and a photographer all at the same time. He used poetry and decorative to tell a humble story. His abstract photography showed beauty in this ugly world. This is what made him a record-breaking photographer in the Middle East. His works were auctioned at the Christie’s Dubai and Phillips London, fetching well over $133,000.
He first made films for kids: The Bread and Alley, Breaktime, The Experience, The Traveler, So Can I, Two Solutions for One Problem, Colors, A Wedding Suit, First Graders, The Chorus, Fellow Citizen, Where Is the Friend’s House, The Key, Orderly or Disorderly, Homework, and Life and Nothing More are just some of the masterpieces in which Kiarostami used kids and young adults to tell complex stories.
Perhaps that explains why he began making films when he was working at the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, and why he was so determined to make films for Iranian children.
Kiarostami loved his country and knew how to share that love with others. His movies take us on a journey to learn how to be responsible and free. This is not an easy task. That’s why Kiarostami was not just a film-maker. He was a genius, a pioneer in telling stories with new visual forms.
July 5, 2016 was a difficult day for many in Iranian cinema. The day in which many prayed he could make it through the operation room. In the end, the cruel world took him away from us, just about 14 days after he celebrated his 76th birthday.