"A Taste of Cherry," the newest film by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is an exquisite return to cinema at its most intimate, allusive and humanist. Without a firebomb, muscle-bound star or gunfight in sight, it explodes with the most fragile and combustible substance on earth: human nature.
"A Taste of Cherry," which opens today for a one-week engagement at the Orpheum, is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, from Kiarostami's subtle use of shadows and light on the Iranian countryside to his ingenious staging, most of which takes place in a moving car.
A quiet, deliberately paced and deceptively simple story of a day in the life of one Iranian man, the film opens on Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) driving his Range Rover through the outskirts of Tehran. As he passes groups of day laborers gathered at street corners, it's clear he is looking for someone or something. But none of the men suit his fancy. Finally, he asks a strapping young worker if he needs a lift and would like to make some easy money. For the first half of the film, Badii's motives remain unclear. Is he on the hustle? A political subversive? A homosexual predator? A lonely innocent? It isn't until he picks up a Kurdish soldier (Ali Moradi) that his story becomes clear.
Although Badii discloses little about himself, this much we know: He's well-off (the Range Rover), he's contemplating an extreme action, and he is looking for help. During the course of "A Taste of Cherry," Badii -- whom Ershadi portrays in an expressively watchful and heart-rending performance -- encounters a security guard, a seminary student and a museum taxidermist. Each man responds to his request with simple, lucid insights into the relative morality of his search; especially touching is the taxidermist (Abdolhossein Bagheri), whose impassioned plea to Badii to reconsider is full of poetic imagery and provides the film's title.
Kiarostami himself fashions a kind of plea with "A Taste of Cherry." As Badii drives back and forth, the Iranian landscape changes from a sere brown to more burnished hues of yellow and gold, intensifying the movie's themes of life's beauty and possibility, which are also echoed in the constant sounds of life that engulf the film, from men working and children playing to birds singing.
The ending of "A Taste of Cherry" is an elliptical one, designed to confound and provoke. As in all his films, Kiarostami blends fact and fiction in such a way to beg the question of where reality ends and art begins. It's a strategy that is entirely consistent for a filmmaker who wants to show viewers the potential for transcendence in their own lives.
'A Taste of Cherry'
Starring Homayoun Ershadi
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Released by Zeitgeist Films
* = poor
** = fair
*** = good
**** = excellent
Pub Date: 8/31/98