Cinema, more than the other arts, has been coopted for the purpose of entertainment. Given the costs of producing movies, it was inevitable from the beginning. (Crowd-pleasing fare is the time-tested way studios procure profits and investors recoup repayment.) Is it kind of ridiculous to raise a finger in protest against middlebrow movies at this point in the summer? Guilty as charged.
Still, can we talk about the nobler goals that movies can aspire to? Can I use words like “profound” and “philosophical” and “sublime” and “uncompromising?” Can we reconnect with the understated genius of the late filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami?
The Iranian director, who honed his singular technique of blending realty and fiction in an array of shorts and documentaries in the 1970s and ’80s, earned his first recognition in the West in 1987 with Where is the Friend’s House? (Saturday, Aug. 17 at the Roxie). This seemingly simple road movie set in northern Iran patiently tracks a boy’s moral endeavor—returning a notebook to a classmate—with Kiarostami’s unique blend of clear-eyed unsentimentality, unwavering empathy and bits of stray humor.
After a monumentally devastating earthquake killed thousands of people in the region in 1990, Kiarsotami returned to shoot And Life Goes On... (Saturday, Aug. 17 and Friday, Sept. 20 at BAMPFA). Remarkably, and tellingly, the director devised a life-affirming saga out of the destruction and rubble. At the same time, this great artist transformed the tenets of neorealism and the signposts of nonprofessional performance into a subtextual commentary on filmmaking and storytelling.
While the Roxie’s mini-salute concludes Aug. 17, the major BAMPFA retrospective Abbas Kiarostami: Life as Art, rolls through Dec. 21. By any means necessary, grab the opportunity to discover or revisit a director whose every work was and is a tonic for the soul.
The other film on view this week, 1990’s Close-Up (Sunday, Aug. 18 and Saturday, Aug. 19), foregrounds the way people see movies—and see themselves as the stars of the movie of their life—by documenting the bizarre trial and reenacting the original actions of a man who impersonated Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
Abbas Kiarostami was one of a small handful of astutely humanist filmmakers in the history of movies. He was also a multifaceted artist who, for all the acclaim he received in his life, remains underrated.