After forty years of making films and collecting a wide range of awards and golden statuettes, Abbas Kiarostami retains a unique innocence alongside his earned artistic sophistication. He reminds us of characteristics endangered in the contemporary Iranian cinematic landscape, where censorship prevents filmmakers from speaking their minds and government-approved, state-supported cinema produces the major box-office hits.
Here, Kiarostami—interviewed by Iranian film critic (and my teenage years’ film-watching companion) Nima Hassani-Nasab in Farsi in 2012 and translated by me as Kiarostami’s work gets a close-up with a Film Society of Lincoln Center retrospective and the opening of his latest, Like Someone in Love, in U.S. theaters next week—shows a face that cannot be easily seen in his English-language interviews. Heavily quoting Persian poets (though the resonances are, sadly, lost in the translation), and trusting the interviewer, the filmmaker takes off his dark glasses to reveal the eyes of a vulnerable, melancholic man who sees his life and the cinema itself not worthy of all the suffering he has been through.
The conversation covers many details of Kiarostami’s life and career, but mostly focuses on Shirin which is probably the only film in history of cinema in which all the female stars of one country have both appeared and have cried. The interview was conducted in Kiarostami’s north Tehran house, with tables loaded with printed papers of the Iranian maestro’s latest book: Night in the Classic & Modern Persian Poetry. The last two volumes of that controversial project were about the water and the fire in Persian poetry. Kiarostami’s own poetic art still lies in the sublime encounter of the mighty elements of this universe with tiny, funny details of ordinary life. And it’s as cinematically as fresh as the invention the wheel.