Just about every Abbas Kiarostami movie is to an extent about people driving around. The people in the cars drive and they talk, and sooner or later they get somewhere, maybe not geographically, but existentially at least, or so you would think. His movie “Ten” was all about conversations people had in cars. In “Certified Copy,” the images reflected on the windshield were more interesting than the discussion. I know Kiarostami is a gifted filmmaker, because I can see the absolute fire in some of his scenes. When he wants to, he’s capable of arresting filmmaking. But there is a very fine line between extremely careful and slow plotting and just filling time.
“Taste of Cherry” walks this line ever so studiously. It waits a full 25 minutes before revealing its main character’s intentions, and even then it doesn’t seem to amp up the suspense. I admit I looked at the plot description ahead of time, so I knew Mr. Badii’s (Homayoun Ershadi) trepidation and dilemma from the start, which is maybe beside the point. He is contemplating suicide, so he drives around seeking a laborer, a loner or someone naive who will help him without question.
His request is simple. There is a hole in the ground on the side of a secluded hill. Come by at dawn, and Mr. Badii will be in it with a heavy dose of sleeping pills. If he is alive, wake him and help him out. If not, bury him. Either way, Badii will pay well.
My thought is that if this were an easy thing to ask, it wouldn’t take the movie so long to ask it. Kiarostami shows great trepidation for a reason. His purpose is not to approach a fate for this man. He asks, how do you get someone you’ve just met to have faith in you, to take your life in their hands?
Badii’s first potential servant is a teenager in the military. After some uncomfortable, one-sided small talk, this kid quickly regrets his decision to accept this ride. Badii invokes God, logic, pity, monetary incentives and even his country loyalty as a Kurd, to get him to agree to this impossible assignment. But it’s no use. All the small talk in the world could not change his mind.
Kiarostami elevates this material somewhat by denying us the typical melodrama reaction shots, often showing us long, unbroken stretches of the car traveling instead. It’s a symbolic representation of what Badii says early on in the film to explain why he’s committing suicide. We can comprehend his pain, but cannot feel it, so the specifics are unimportant.
“Taste of Cherry” ultimately asks us to change our perspective on life. When this film was made, it was daring for an Iranian to make a movie about suicide. It still is. Here is a film that is arguably boring, polarizing, and if not all together maddening in its perplexing ending, and yet it requires a new outlook to appreciate fully.