Taste of Cherry marks the fourth Abbas Kiarostami film I’ve seen, and my immediate reaction is that it is the one I’ve liked the least. That’s a reaction, however, that is plagued with the suspicion that it may be the one that lingers in my memory the longest. As I noted in the lead-in, this is a slow film and the plot is summed up in that one line — a man drives around the Iranian countryside looking for someone who will agree to bury him after he commits suicide. Though he talks about being painfully unhappy, he never says why he wants to kill himself, nor does he make it clear why he’s obsessed with being buried. His approach is so enigmatic that most of the candidates for the job tend to think they’re being solicited for sex by some rich guy (he drives a Range Rover) cruising the area. Mostly what this results in are refusals and misunderstandings — and a lot of talk. At first this is frankly tedious, but as the film progresses, the talk becomes more interesting, the discussions deeper.
Whether or not this works out — or how it works out — I leave to the film, but I found it increasingly compelling — almost against my will. As the film went on and the encounters became more interesting, so did Mr. Badii become more sympathetic and appealing. The truth is I’m only partly sure how Kiarostami managed this. Oh, I understand it’s in the way the film is structured and the change in scenery that accompanies his final encounter, but it’s so subtly done that you almost only perceive the change on a subconscious level. As filmmaking from a stylistic standpoint, this is very formal, very austere stuff, but somewhere underneath there’s a kind of alchemy going on.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Taste of Cherry Friday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com