The world of cinema has suffered an irreparable loss. The death of the 76-year-old filmmaking legend Abbas Kiarostami marks the end of a great era in world cinema. A towering figure of Iranian cinema, Kiarostami won the coveted Palme d'Or for his 1997 film Taste of Cherry, which presents the story of a desperate man on the verge of suicide who seeks someone willing to bury him discreetly under a cherry tree. Till date he is the only Iranian filmmaker to have won the top honour at Cannes.
Kiarostami's celebrated body of work includes films like Close-Up (1990), The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), Shirin (2008) and Certified Copy (2010), for which Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress award at Cannes. Kiarostami is one of the few Iranian filmmakers who stayed back in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution and continued to make films in his native land. In fact, all his films except the last two were made in Iran.
There are few filmmakers who have inspired the French-Swiss maestro Jean-Luc Godard. Kiarostami happens to be one of them. Godard famously said, after watching Kiarostami's Life, and Nothing More... (1992): "Film begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami." Indeed, there are elements of Abbas Kiarostami's earlier works that went on to influence Godard's later films, such as his 2004 cinematic essay, Notre musique.
He had constant trouble with censorship in Iran, yet he chose not to leave his motherland, likening himself to a tree rooted in the ground.
Kiarostami was born in Tehran in 1940 and studied at the School of Fine Arts at Tehran University. He started off his career by making commercials for Iranian television. He then began making children documentaries before moving on to art films that would go on to win awards around the world. Although he avoided making overtly political films, he had constant trouble with censorship in Iran. Yet he chose not to leave his motherland, likening himself to a tree rooted in the ground. Kiarostami said, "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." However, troubles with censorship did ultimately force him to make his last two feature films outside of Iran.
Kiarostami's death has left a deep void in the world of cinema. His cinema was as close to poetry as it can ever get. The real beauty of his cinema lies in its universal appeal. His realist stories, focusing on the lives of ordinary people, managed to deliver deep and touching lessons on humanity, transcending all man-made boundaries. Kiarostami's cinema is an institution in itself and will remain so through the ages.
A version of this article was first published A Potpourri of Vestiges.