Abbas Kiarostami: From Iran to Cannes to Japan

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Abbas Kiarostami is a name more familiar in the dankest café in Cannes than in the lobby of the most spectacular movie theater in St. Louis. Probably, anyway. But then again, the Iranian filmmaker has already taken home the top prize at one Cannes Film Festival, was nominated and lost three other times, and now arrives on the beaches of the south of France looking to score another Palme d'Or.

Kiarostami began as a director of commercials for Iranian television before moving on to short films and features in the 1970s during the reign of the American-backed Shah. It would be another two decades before Kiarostami first gained recognition at Cannes. The next two decades would find his films receiving those nominations for Cannes' top honor.

"Through the Olive Trees"

The jurors at Cannes first took notice of Abbas Kiarostami with "Through the Olive Trees." What is most interesting about "Through the Olive Trees" is that it is a fictional film that takes as its subject the making of Kiarostami's previous effort "Life, and Nothing More," an earlier Cannes attention-grabber screened outside of competition.

The first recognition of the Iranian filmmaker by Cannes resulted in a loss of the Golden Palm to a mostly forgotten little sleeper that went by the title of … "Pulp Fiction." Kiarostami would be back and hit the jackpot, however.

"Taste of Cherry"

Kiarostami's unwillingness to back away from complex ethical issues that even extend to ambiguous morality such as selling your body to expand your mind reached its zenith at the Cannes Film Festival with "Taste of Cherry." The jurors at Cannes 1997 chose "Taste of Cherry" as the best of a lot in a tie with Japanese director Shohei Imamura's "The Eel."

The film is about a man in search of a stranger who will assist him in his suicide. "Taste of Cherry" marked an ideological shift for away from more concrete endings and toward his embrace of far more ambiguity in his films' endings.

"Like Someone in Love"

Kiarostami's versatility as a filmmaker is on grand display with his arrival in Cannes in 2012 with a Japanese-language film. "Like Someone in Love" is just the Iranian's second film set outside his native country. The central conceit of prostitution utilized as a means of paying for education is not one as foreign to Kiarostomi's past work as the film's international setting might imply.

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