In the 1990s, the international film festival circuit provided the context for Kiarostami’s emergence as a world renowned Iranian filmmaker. At that time, opportunities for a glimpse into Iranian culture and society were rare. Foreign audiences’ wetted appetites for narratives, images, and subjects from an alien and exotic culture, especially when they turned out to be so warm and brilliant, have now been assuaged. The ready availability of contemporary Iranian films, through cinematic releases and DVD distribution, has to an extent made contemporary Iranian cinema familiar, even banal, to the outside world. Considering the political focus on the Middle East since the derided “War on Terror” launched by the Bush Administration from 2001, the social realism that many Iranian films advocate serves to neutralise the adverse and dehumanising publicity that Iran specifically, and the Middle East in general, receive in mainstream global media.
The influence of Italian neo-realism in many of Kiarostami’s films is unmistakable. Kiarostami’s investments in the seemingly insignificant stories and the minutiae of everyday life imbue his early films with a humanism that matures into the social realism evident in the later works. Kiarostami’s characters often form the underbelly of society or are shown to be subject to adverse circumstances. The woman driver in Ten (2002) and the various characters she picks up are seen to be driven to the verge of despair by their circumstances: the cynical prostitute who overturns the driver’s questions and assumptions about her professional choice; the two women at the end of love affairs; and the old lady who displaces her sufferings by religious piety. Ten is reminiscent of the earlier Cannes favourite, Taste of Cherry (1995), in its use of the car as a semi-enclosed mobile space that facilitates the interaction between private circumstances and public discourses. The woman driver’s son, with his torrent of abuse for his mother, contradicts the view that children are used in Kiarostami’s films to tell stories of easy hopes and cheap moralities and is instead shown to be imprinted with, and a perpetrator of, cultural misogyny. Yet, upon these sympathetic characters and narratives that Kiarostami creates are placed a burden of representation that is beyond reasonable, particularly given international festival audiences’ expectations that these films provide the opportunity of a glimpse into Iranian society and culture.
The above is an extract by Dr. Sharon Lin Tay from Middlesex University; from the 2nd edition of Yvonne Tasker’s 50 Contemporary Film Directors (Routledge, 2010)
Catch the screening of “Ten” on 27 Nov 1.30pm!