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The Long & Winding Road: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami

At the time of his death in Paris in 2016, Abbas Kiarostami was an undisputed master of contemporary cinema.

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Across four decades, his deeply humanist and formally inventive works drew praise from global audiences and critics but perhaps he was most revered by filmmakers themselves. Martin Scorsese attributed the “highest level of artistry in the cinema” to Kiarostami and Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa said, “When Satyajit Ray passed on, I was very depressed. But after seeing Kiarostami’s films, I thanked God for giving us just the right person to take his place.”

Born in Tehran in 1940, Kiarostami studied painting and graphic design, directed commercials, wrote poetry, and illustrated children’s books before embarking on filmmaking. His early films largely centred on the lives of children but as Kiarostami was often at pains to clarify they were “about, but not necessarily for, children”. Journeys and quests form the backbone of Kiarostami’s narrative films and in particular, the titles in this season, but as critic Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests, it’s not the resolution of the quest but the digressions that offer much of the “personality, humour, and atmosphere” in these films.

The Koker trilogy (Where Is the Friend’s House?, And Life Goes On, Through the Olive Trees) introduced Kiarostami to the world. Named for the region where they were shot, the films became increasingly meta, and this formal experimentation alongside the use of non-professional actors lent an unbridled dimension which is exhilarating on first or repeated viewings. Critically acclaimed films such as The Wind Will Carry Us and Taste of Cherry followed.

Kiarostami met the new millennium on its terms, experimenting with digital technologies and pushing the very boundaries of what film direction is with his masterpiece Ten. Critic and programmer Geoff Andrew noted that while Kiarostami was not a traditional cinephile, “he probably thought more deeply about cinema – its potential, limitations, and ethics – than most filmmakers”. By the end of his career, the fine artist, teacher, and collaborator had introduced the world to Iranian cinema whilst changing the very boundaries of what we call a film.

Presented by Sydney Film Festival in association with ACMI and NFSA.

Kristy Matheson
Director, Film Programs, ACMI

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