By Nicholas Davies
In anticipation of DFI’s partial retrospective of the work of master Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, last week we took a look at his ’10 on Ten’, a sort of master-class film in which the director breaks down his filmmaking practice for the audience, discussing his approach to making movies and his way of seeing the world.
This week, we take a look at Pat Collins and Fergus Daly’s ‘Kiarostami: The Art of Living’ (2003), which makes a great complement to ’10 on Ten’, as it looks at Kiarostami’s work from the outside. In what is essentially a talking-head approach, a series of film critics and scholars discuss the various themes, tropes and methods that Kiarostami uses in his filmmaking – as well as in his photography and poetry.
On the one hand, nothing here is a huge revelation if one is familiar with Kiarostami’s work or done any reading about the way Kiarostami approaches filmmaking (his blending of fiction and reality through the use of real locations and non-professional actors; his particular way of capturing the Iranian – and later French and Japanese – land- or cityscape; and of course his predilection for conversations in the front seats of cars).
That said, the doc’s success is in the interviews – and chats with the director himself – which, along with clips taken from Kiarostami’s films, connect and explain all these elements in a particularly clear and accessible way. Of particular interest is the commentary on Kiarostami’s development of a narrative structure that increasingly removes or effaces elements from the story (the ‘important’ things in Kiarostami’s films are often not actually there – invisible, unexplained, marginal).
There’s no question that Kiarostami’s work is a challenge, with its very particular narrative structure, its self-reflexive consideration of the place in the world of art and the artist, and its exceedingly intelligent, poetic considerations of life’s big questions. Great homework for entering into the world of Kiarostami, ‘The Art of Living’ is a kind of historical road map for the audience, showing us where we are, what to look for, and what might have happened here before.