We join the international film world in mourning the death and celebrating the work of the great Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Mr. Kiarostami visited the Wex in March 1998 around the time of the US release of his Palme d'Or–winning Taste of Cherry, participating in a conversation following the screening with the Wexner Center Curator at Large Bill Horrigan (then Director of Film/Video) and Akbar Mahdi of the Iranian Cultural Association of Columbus and then associate professor of sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University. Their conversation, which included a revealing and in-depth discussion of Taste of Cherry, can be found online at The Iranian.
Reflecting a different side of his practice, Kiarostami’s mesmerizing and affecting work Shirin (2008), an intriguing take on filmic spectatorship, screened here as part of Tobias Putrih/MOS’s cinematic installation Majestic in 2011. Horrigan’s reflection on Shirin in the accompanying publication offers a window into Kiarostami’s work, and its profound humanity, as a whole:
“Shirin (2008) approaches mesmerizing spectacle head-on, producing a radically distilled take on the notion of a reaction shot. Here, the “event” to which, one by one, a hundred and fourteen women are seen to be reacting, remains completely unrevealed, not to them but to us. Seated in an Iranian cinema, they’re purportedly watching a film also called “Shirin,” a melodramatic adaptation of a well-known Persian love story (that film doesn’t actually exist, Kiarostami having produced only the audio track of dialogue and music, plus some often violent sound effects—in effect, a radio play). An inquiry into the poetics of spectatorship, Kiarostami’s project was intended to be screened in conventional cinemas—a real movie meant to circulate within a moviegoing universe, albeit within an art-house satellite in that universe. But in its secret life, it comports itself as though it were a gallery installation all along, a “what if?” proposition in extremis: what if someone made a movie consisting solely of faces of women watching a movie? Directed by Kiarostami to look slightly away from his camera, his actresses (among them many well-regarded Iranian performers, plus the unexpected presence of French luminary Juliette Binoche, star of the director’s recent Certified Copy) mark the movement of the unseen narrative through what flits across the surface of each’s face: amusement, engagement, boredom, wonder, tear-inducing empathy. We’re assigned to be looking at these moviegoers as they look; in the shot/reaction shot dyad, we become the event to which they react: the cinema is us.”
There are countless other stories we could tell of Kiarostami, his work, and the myriad ways his life intersected with that of the Wex. Those range from his adventures here in 1998 and affinity for the work of visual artist Brice Marden, then on view in our galleries (an influence Bill and I later detected in an exhibition of Kiarostami’s photography that we later saw in Paris), and bumping into a congenial Kiarostami at an airport in Prague just before Karlovy Vary film festival, to our screening of the documentary Tabaki, directed by his son Bahman, who himself visited in 2001.
It's too early still to completely assess Abbas Kiarostami's legacy, but it’s clear that he influenced a generation of filmmakers and helped bring Iranian cinema to greater international attention. RIP Mr. Kiarostami."