For Abbas Kiarostami: The singular beauty of truth, or the illusion of being

No artist, in any country, is free.  S/he is a living contestation.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

The films of Abbas Kiarostami are now complete.  With Kiarostami’s death this last July 4th, the worlds of his creation are now fixed, at least in number.

And yet how extraordinarily alive his cinema is.  Refusing the label of story teller, rejecting propaganda as political-artistic engagement, Kiarostami’s art assumed that most humble and respectful position of recognising in his audience their freedom, their ability to create as much as he, as the filmmaker.  His films are gifts to an audience that he was never able to see as consumers, or worse, people to be beaten into submission by abusive seduction.  Like a friend, he shares with us worlds honestly, that is, as incomplete, allowing us thereby to breath, to imagine, to take flight.

Kiarostami’s film characters are often poorly fitted to the world.  But in inviting us to see with them, feel with them, we learn of our own subtle dissonances, everyday rebellions, feeling then in our hearts that something akin to a revolutionary also lurks within us; a dreamer of other worlds awakened by the cracks of this world, brought into the light by Kiarostami’s fictioning.

However static Kiarostami’s films appear to be, nothing remains stable.  His mastery was in seeing movement where we see only immobility.   And if we can learn to see with him, as he so often invited us to do, then we discover that nothing is, that all is becoming.  But we learn also that it is in this very becoming, in its permanent possibility and our awareness of it, where wisdom can lie. 

The words that follow are Kiarostami’s …

Our work starts with a lie on a daily-routine basis. When you make a film you bring elements from other places, other environments, and you gather them together in a unity that really doesn’t exist. You’re faking that unity. … In cinema anything that can happen would be true. It doesn’t have to correspond to a reality, it doesn’t have to “really” be happening. In cinema, by fabricating lies we may never reach the fundamental truth, but we will always be on our way to it. We can never get close to the truth except through lying.

(from “Abbas Kiarostami”, Interview by Akram Zaatari, Bomb Magazine, Winter 1995)


A movie is about human beings, about humanity. All the different nations in the world, despite their differences of appearance and religion and language and way of life, still have one thing in common, and that is what’s inside of all of us. If we X-rayed the insides of different human beings, we wouldn’t be able to tell from those X-rays what the person’s language or background or race is. Our blood circulates exactly the same way, our nervous system and our eyes work the same way, we laugh and cry the same way, we feel pain the same way. The teeth we have in our mouths—no matter what our nationality or background is—ache exactly the same way. If we want to divide cinema and the subjects of cinema, the way to do it is to talk about pain and about happiness. These are common among all countries.

… my wish is that all viewers should not complete the film in their minds the same way, like crossword puzzles that all look the same no matter who has solved them. Even if it’s “filled out” wrong, my kind of cinema is still “correct” or true to its original value. I don’t leave the blank spaces just so people have something to finish. I leave them blank so people can fill them according to how they think and what they want. In my mind, the abstraction we accept in other forms of art—painting, sculpture, music, poetry—can also enter the cinema. I feel cinema is the seventh art, and supposedly it should be the most complete since it combines the other arts. But it has become just storytelling, rather than the art it should really be.

The poetic film is like a puzzle where you put the pieces together and they don’t necessarily match. You can make whatever arrangement you yourself would like. Contrary to what the general public is used to, it doesn’t give you a clear result at the end. And it doesn’t give you advice!

I want to create the type of cinema that shows by not showing. This is very different from most movies nowadays, which are not literally pornographic but are in essence pornographic, because they show so much that they take away any possibility of imagining things for ourselves. My aim is to give the chance to create as much as possible in our minds, through creativity and imagination. I want to tap the hidden information that’s within yourself and that you probably didn’t even know existed inside you. We have a saying in Persian, when somebody is looking at something with real intensity: “He had two eyes and he borrowed two more.” Those two borrowed eyes are what I want to capture—the eyes that will be borrowed by the viewer to see what’s outside the scene he’s looking at. To see what is there and also what is not there.

In general, I think movies and art should take us away from daily life, should take us to another state, even though daily life is where this flight is launched from. This is what gives us comfort and peace. The time for Scheherazade and the King—the storytelling time—is over.

(from “With Borrowed Eyes: An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami”, David Sterritt, film comment, July/August 2000)


I think that in life, being is nothing but an illusion. If we acknowledge that and accept the fact that we are in between states, that we are moving, and this movement is the nature of our lives, and we stop having aspirations for being in a definite state, we know life better and are able to enjoy it better.

People have curiosity, they have intelligence, they have interest in understanding their peers. But producers and directors of cinema have decided that the seats in the theaters have been made to transform people’s minds to lazy minds. As soon as they enter a theater they must become moron consumers who must be fed information. Those same people, when they leave the theater, when they look behind the curtains they are curious about their neighbors, they can guess if their neighbors are siblings or a couple, how old they are, what their occupation is. They are curious about each other and they can understand each other without being fed information. Why should it be different in cinema?

(from “They Should Be Grateful: An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami”, Zachary Wigon, Filmmaker Magazine, 02/13/2013)

… some of Kiarostami’s films, to live by and with …

The Bread and Alley (1970) …

In between class (1972) …

The Experience (1973) …

Two solutions for one problem (1975)

The Report (1977) …

The Chorus (1982) …

Close Up (1990 – with spanish subtitles) …

The wind will carry us (1999) …


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