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Taste of Cherry
1997 - PG - 95 Mins.
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Producer: Abbas Kiarostami
Written By: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Mir Hossein Noori,
Review by: Charles Vuolo
   
Imagine if I wrote reviews like Abbas Kiarostami directs films. Over and over I would use plodding sentences to state the obvious. Filling multiple pages with superfluous plot points, I would rely on repetitive prose to convey effectually meaningless and unimportant details. Also, every review would take two full hours to read.

If you are a hopeless insomniac then rejoice, for the Iranian film "Taste of Cherry" is guaranteed to send you into a sound and dreamless slumber. If however you are a discerning and intelligent film viewer, then there is little to be gained from the incomparably dull experience that is Kiarostami's latest (and widely praised) work.

The film's meager plot can easily be surmised in one sentence: A man named Mr. Badii drives his Jeep up and down the dusty expanse of a Tehranian construction site, searching for someone to aid him in committing suicide. This single, uncomplicated narrative is the film's only concise element. Indeed, everything else is meandering and painfully bleak. As Mr. Badii drives down long and winding roads, he interacts with a diverse range of people, most of whom refuse to help him in his gloomy endeavor. At long last he manages to find a grudging accomplice, and a merciful end (for Mr. Badii and the audience alike) finally appears. A post-modernistic finishing shot is also included, however after following Mr. Badii's prolonged exploits in all too real time, I hardly cared to notice.

Watching as Mr. Badii's Jeep slowly drives up a hill, then down the other side is nothing short of agonizing for those accustomed to the rapid editing of Western films. Even those attuned to the subtleties of foreign cinema will cede that many of these takes are unnecessarily prolonged. Less compelling then Kiarostami's "The Wind Will Carry Us," "Taste of Cherry" is so entirely uneventful that only those possessing the endurance of a Tibetan Monk (or high-minded critics who associate dullness with depth) could plausibly enjoy it. Such unconventional (and painful) pacing is a common attribute of Kiarostami's work, however the film possess other stylistic quirks that are equally off-putting. Conversations are often held with the camera viewing only one of the participants, reducing the other character to a mysterious auditory presence. The film also contains very few continuum cuts, forcing the audience to observe every single laborious event in its full triviality. The concept of skipping ahead to a meaningful moment is apparently not favored by Kiarostami.

Despite its wearisome execution the film is decently crafted, displaying able cinematography and suitable performances. Hardly an affront to the eyes, the dusty vistas of Tehran are compelling, though sheer repetition soon renders them bland. While "Taste of Cherry" can be esteemed for its unique mode and construction, its overall purpose is ambiguous.

In all fairness Kiarostami is a skilled filmmaker, responsible for a body of work that inspired Godard to proclaim: "Film begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami." Nevertheless even innovative artists are capable of producing works of banality, and a life of virtuosity is no excuse for the tedium of this film. A possible explanation for the laborious pacing of "Taste of Cherry" may lie in Kiarotami's dislike of traditional Western filmmaking. Having long ridiculed the hyper-sensational, explosion-laden American epics, Kiarotami no doubt sought to create the mirror opposite. Though I share his disdain for bloated and lifeless spectacle films, I find it impossible to believe that a persuasive anti-Hollywood argument exists in the form of Mr. Badii's silent meanderings.

An emotional black-hole, "Taste of Cherry" is elusive and practically unwatchable. Of itself the subject matter, namely suicide in a culture that forbids it, holds a fascinating appeal. Kiarostami however seems more preoccupied with putting his audience to sleep then truly addressing the issue. A powerful art-form, film is capable of imparting intense thrills and profound messages, often at the same time. As a tool of communication it has been used to spark revolution (Battleship Potemkin), fuel hate (Birth of a Nation) and cause war (Triumph of the Will). Why then should such an effective tool be utilized for nothing more than the documentation of monotony? With the versatility afforded, why re-live unimportant details ad-nauseam when they can so easily be exorcized? If cut into a quarter of its length, "Taste of Cherry" would be a stirring essay on man's existence in a restrictive and callous society. In its current state however it is an overlong and pedantic foray into the very minutia that we visit the theater to escape.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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