Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
(1997, Not Rated, 95 min)

We don’t learn very much about Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) in Abbas Kiarostami‘s Taste of Cherry. The character holds himself at a distance from those around him, and from us as well, withholding information he is hesitant to reveal, but that he must, because he needs help. He intends to kill himself, with a plan to overdose on sleeping pills and lie down in an open grave, but when morning comes he wants to be buried with dignity, or if his attempt has not been successful, to be helped out of his pit – I suppose, to try again the following night. To reveal this desire upfront would doubtless scare away anyone who might help. He needs someone he can trust, someone he connects with in some way. He’s looking for a human connection in the world in order to make his way out of the world.

Why he wants to die is a mystery, much as it was in a later film with a similar theme, Ramin Bahrani‘s Goodbye Solo. So we find ourselves identifying more with those Badii approaches than with Badii himself. The first such scene is the film’s very best, filled with quiet tension as Badii offers a struggling young soldier a lot of money to perform a very simple task that gets more and more sinister the farther they drive. When they reach the open grave the sadness underlying Badii’s intended mission somehow makes it even more frightening. Kiarostami’s focus on the face of the soldier, played by Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari, gives the scene its power; he is stricken, helpless, as if sitting across from the looming specter of death.

I’m not entirely sure what we’re intended to take away from the film as a whole, but it enlisted my sympathy, and that was enough for me. I was struck by scenes that show the distance of the main character, like a shot in which he is obscured by blowing sand, and a later scene that shows his evening preparations, which the director films from a distance, outside his apartment looking in. It’s a reflection of how estranged we are from him, but also how estranged he is from everything and everyone; images of him evoke loneliness, right down to the last scene. Why he’s lonely, why he has chosen this course of action, his life up to that point – that would just be exposition. What Kiarostami is interested in is the condition of hopelessness, not its cause.