Taste of Cherry (Ta'm e Guilass) Reviews
The "slow, monotonous, almost boring" aspect of many acclaimed films that take a sad tone and a slow pace as part of the experience they want to convey is a massive point of controversy, just like the "walking simulator" experience in videogames, and I cant imagine how it continues to be so, as many films like Taste of Cherry just plain prove that it can be done right as long as it connects to the themes and overall experience in a perfectly artistic, poetic, and organic way in order to make it ironically and strangely magical. Pansies.
In his way, just by asking for people to help him it's his way of reaching out. One of the cliches (but a cliche is what it is because it's many times true) with suicidal people is that they will say they will or want to kill themselves because they want attention. However this isn't some stereotypical teenager or someone with easy to see anxiety issues... but then how many people out there CAN we see having this? Maybe Mr. Badhii has no other reason except the one that many people who kill themselves get into: severe, crippling depression. He is told by one of the three passengers he picks up in the film, a Seminarian (aka a priest of a sort) that the Koran forbids suicide since God gives man a body that he must not damage. But what if the mind is already damaged?
One of the handful of negative reviews on this Golden Palm winner from 1997 was by Roger Ebert. He was much harsher than I could ever be on the film, since I think it's rather challenging and intelligent in its philosophical aims and its "slowness" works as part of a character unable to really cope with the sense that 'there's no other choice and this HAS to be this way' sense of ending a life (maybe not as strong as Melancholia, but then few films are). Yet he made a curious point that I agree with, which is that we don't know anything about this man and so there's no port into sympathy for him. I think I get both sides of how people might approach that argument: too often a movie will overload a movie character with reasons to do this or that or the other. Kiarostami means to almost make this experimental in approach (about 75% of the film is shot from inside a car - what this means aesthetically in the context of the film I'm still sure I don't know, on a first viewing anyway), but also that maybe too many reasons would make things too easy or too country specific.
In other words, by having it so that Mr. Badhii's conflict is so internalized that it becomes more about his quest to get this ONE thing done that makes his journey interesting - who needs reasons when you simply have a man on screen who can communicate so much through his eyes (I must stress that the performance from Ershadi may be the strongest thing about the film, like I wish he had been recognized at Cannes along with or even instead of Kiarostami)? What's also impressive about the film, what makes Taste of Cherry impactful, are a) those interactions Badhii has with these three people (the young soldier who is clearly uncomfortable from almost the start of the pick-up and then wants to just get out and have nothing to do with him, the Semanarist, and then the older gentleman who agrees to what Badhii asks but tries to go on and talks the most of anyone about why suicide isn't such a good idea based on, you know, some little thing may make you realize life is worth living).
And B) those little moments where Badhii doesn't have someone in his car, and he stops off at a construction site to just sit there amid all of the "earth" and rubble around him (he almost looks like he's in tears, as this comes after the second passenger rejected his request, though it's almost, cinematically speaking, in a metaphysical sense of visual language, that things are crashing down upon and all around him), or when he simply looks out at people as they go about their day, soldiers marching and chanting along, the children playing, and a young woman who asks him to take a picture of her. I think a good filmmaker finds those little moments and attempts to build some context around the story, and Kiarostami does that: Badhii may have it set in his mind to do this, but how does one completely disregard... well, LIFE, all around him, the world continuing to live and thrive and people doing things like, at one point, getting his car out from under a ditch that he drives in to by a cliff?
So much of the story is rich - the execution, yes, is a little slow at points, by this I should say shots linger as the characters improvise their lines (it didn't feel that way watching it, but finding out after the fact there was no full script makes it both remarkable and more sense why it sounds the way it all does) - that it's extremely disappointing that the ending putters out. It may be one of those things I *should* get and just completely flew over my head what meaning it was. I won't say what happens except to say that it feels like the film is reaching some logical conclusion, or perhaps a revelation, and what we get feels like a non-ending, or, frankly a cop-out. DID Kiarostami know what ending he wanted and threw it out to do something "fresh", or did he not get what he wanted and decided to just say 'eff it' and forget what was happening in the film?
What's so frustrating is that for 90% of the film Kiarostami tells a story in a specific way, that can't be mistaken for any other style or approach, and then in that last 10% (and also things start to slow down to a crawl, which is fine, but it feels like it's leading up to SOMETHING) it becomes, well, *meta* or taking the experimental to a place that is distancing for the audience. But more than anything I just didn't get it, and I usually feel I can get most weird and esoteric decisions. And I'm sure some smarter film goer than I will explain what the end means and make me feel all foolish for not getting it, but that makes me feel WORSE about it, not better. And at the end of the day so much of Taste of Cherry is a provocative, daring, surprising film that I can't not recommend it to audiences looking for a fiercely intelligent film by someone looking to break out of the box of typical narrative films.
If only it stuck to its, I don't know, narrative!
Badii deliberately drives around areas of town where men are out of work and looking for odd jobs. At first it is implied that he is a homosexual looking for sexual favors, but that quickly does not seem to be the case. He finds a few men who seem they could use the money, but they refuse to help him. He finally finds a Turkish taxidermist to help.
There is no mention of why Badii wants to committ suicide and there is little known about his character. Where did he come from? What does he do? Where did he get that money to offer these people? But, is all that really needed in a film this good? Does a film always need to develop characters and provide as much backstory for them as possible so the audience can identify with them?
"Taste of Cherry" is an Iranian film and Iran is a country that doesn't receive a lot of attention for their cinema, but recently Asghar Farhardi won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for "A Separation" and even received a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. It's safe to say that maybe Americans should consider more Iranian cinema.
While it's far from perfect, it's is filmed and written exquisitely by Abbas Kiarostami. If you're going to watch any of his films, this is the one. Kiarostami can brilliantly hold on a shot, and make you interested in what seems like things entirely uninteresting. The shots of the Range Rover driving along the edge of the sandy terrain of Tehran is absolutely stunning. The main character is an unknown weirdo to say the least, with kind of a Joaquin Phoenix quality about him. He desperately seeks an accomplice for his suicide. It's never really explained why he is committing suicide. The driving around conversations really gave off a Taxi Driver vibe, it could be that he's just a psycho. The story that helps him off the ledge by his third passenger is the best piece of dialogue in the film, and it seems so real in how uplifting it is. The only thing that left me feeling odd was the B-roll footage shown before the end credits. What did it mean? Why did Kiarostami place it in the movie? I would have rather the film ended with Mr. Baadi waiting for his accomplice to come bury him. It would've made for a stronger ending. But what do I know?
There are plenty of good lines in this film, such as "you cannot use the spade, but you can use the gun," questioning the difference between two methods of going about killing somebody. There is definitely more of a cowardice behind the use of a gun, and the soldier embodies this by fleeing the car before answering if he will help Mr. Badii.
The film has a brilliant structure, making it seem like three stages of life. We have the young soldier, representing that we fear death in youth. Then we have a slightly older man who has a religious background who explains the problem with suicide. This represents an awareness of death, but the man trying to convince Badii that suicide is a sin shows not necessarily coming to terms with death just yet.
The final conversation is the longest, and it revolves around an older taxidermist. Not only is he closer to death than Badii, he is familiar with death since he is a taxidermist. He is also extremely wise and has a lot to say about why Badii should reconsider, but he also accepts the job, showing an acceptance of death. It is also important to note that the film takes place over one long day, and with night coming at the end of this day it represents the ending of life in a sense.
This is a really brilliant movie with such a strange ending that I still do not quite understand. I would have liked if the film had ended when they day ended rather than the ending that reflects on filmmaking. In my opinion, this is a near-perfect film.
There was something about Taste of Cherry that hit me during my first viewing; it tackled the intimacy and quietness of suicide in such an honest way. Coming back to this, I hoped it would create a much larger impact on me, since I already knew what I was coming into and the ideas behind it couldn't be clearer; but sadly my experience did not improve, neither did it worsen.
After recently seeing Heathers, suicide and the way it is conveyed in cinema has been on my mind, and very few films capture the irony and destruction of suicide as much as Heathers. Taste of Cherry plays out the opposite. What we have here is a film that shows the personal and intimate side of taking one's own life. It follows a man, only known as Mr. Badii, who has decided to take his own life and wants another person to aid him in creating the perfect suicide. The person that helps does not actually perform anything that would end his life; his role is only to check if he was still alive and if not he has to simply bury him. The entire film revolves around Mr. Badii searching for that one person that would help him, but with each shows resistance, even the one that would eventually accept his offer, as it would either frighten them or would go against their personal or religious values.
Abbas Kiarostami, the film's director, does not provide the film any concrete answers; exposition is certainly low in regarding to the protagonist, and all we have to react to is the emotions that fill that car of his. The film rarely ever strays away from the vehicle, filling the time with conversations and mid shots that contains very little variety. The audience does not immediately gain sympathy for the protagonist, as it progresses in stages with each new passenger allowing us to feel closer to Mr. Badii. There is a correlating pattern with each new passenger, showing an increase of age, wisdom and empathy; Kiarostami understands that it is only when we are naturally closer to death and a large wealth of experience is running behind us, that we become much more understanding of death and the rich value of life. It is not up to us whether or not someone should or should not take their own life, but it is in our nature to influence others and aiding them in making the "right" decision.
Taste of Cherry is no doubt a deep and emotional film due to its plot and the ideas it explores, but I personally feel it has stretched itself out for too long. The story itself is a simple one, and the ideas covering it are universal to the point where it could be established and conveyed to its audience within half the length of the film. I feel that the film would have worked better, in regards to its pacing and execution, if the film was 20 minutes shorter, or at least feature one sequence within the film that strays away from the repeated cycle, while still maintaining to the thematic intentions of the film of course.
Taste of Cherry does what many filmmakers are afraid to do, telling an honest story about suicide. Death has become something regular in films, that sometimes the truth and heart behind it is lost; instead it is used as a way to shock its audience or to simply push the plot forward. The film allows us to stop and contemplate about the value of human life, and how others out there are battling their own personal demons, and are thinking to end it all just to gain that sense of relief, even for just a moment.