Abbas Kiarostami, the award-winning Iranian film director who brought Iranian cinema worldwide acclaim, died on Monday at age 76. He navigated the perils of filming in Iran after the Islamic Revolution, making more than 40 films that provided “a breath of fresh air in international cinema.” His 1997 film “Taste of Cherry” won the Palme d’Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Mr. Kiarostami died in Paris.
While Kiarostami brought Iranian cinema a global reputation, his work was never widely seen in his homeland.
“Taste of Cherry” was banned in Iran. It’s a minimalist film about a man looking for someone to bury him after his suicide, “but in truth,” Kiarostami said in 2014, “it is a suggestion to live.”
“Kiarostami gave the Iranian cinema the international credibility that it has today,” Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf told the Guardian. “But his films were unfortunately not seen as much in Iran. He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanised it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version.”
“He was a man of life, who enjoyed living and made films in praise of life – that’s why it’s so difficult to come to terms with his death,” Mr. Makhmalbaf continued.
Kiarostami found his calling running the film department at Kanun, the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where he worked for two decades and created his first feature, "The Report," in 1977.
“We were supposed to make films that dealt with childhood problems. At the beginning it was just a job, but it was the making of me as an artist,” Kiarostami told the Guardian in 2005.
Kiarostami originally worked to accommodate tightened censorship following the Islamic Revolution. Unlike many of his film industry peers, Kiarostami decided to remain in Iran after the revolution, likening himself to “a tree that is rooted in the ground.” “[If you] transfer it from one place to another, the tree will no longer bear fruit.... If I had left my country, I would be the same as the tree.”
The 1990 film "Close-Up" is a quintessential example of Kiarostami’s innovative cinema that has resonated with viewers around the world and “perhaps the emblematic work of the so-called Iranian New Wave.” Half scripted, half documentary, with some actors playing themselves, it tells the true story of a man who impersonated a filmmaker and conned a family into believing they would star in his new film.
Kiarostami waded deeper into controversy with his 2002 film "Ten," a docufiction that follows a divorced female taxi driver in Tehran conversing with various passengers. The movie was also nominated for a Palme D’Or.
Towards the end of his career, it became increasingly difficult politically for Kiarostami to work in Iran and he expanded to become a cosmopolitan filmmaker, shooting a documentary about children’s education in Uganda and filming his last two films abroad, in Italy and Japan. The sensitivity and intellectual rigor of his films transcended borders.
"He was a very special human being: quiet, elegant, modest, articulate, and quite observant. I don't think he missed anything. Our paths crossed too seldom, and I was always glad when they did. He was a true gentleman and, truly, one of our great artists,” filmmaker Martin Scorsese told the Associated Press.