Taste of Cherry

Mr Badii is a man on a mission. As he drives around the outskirts of Tehran in a battered Range Rover, we gather that he’s looking for assistance of some kind, and is ready to pay serious money.

Eventually, we learn that he’s looking for an accomplice in his own suicide. His recruitment drive (an unsually literal one) takes on portentous, even fabular significance. 

Along the way, Badii solicits three very different men as they ride in his passenger seat: a young soldier; an Afghan religious scholar; and an elderly taxidermist.

These characters are naturalistic and unmistakably real – but as they discuss Badii’s intentions, surveying a landscape of views on life and death, duty and truth, they begin to seem more like symbolic characters in a parable. 

They are also: a young man; a middle-aged man; and an old man. And so, over the course of Badii's search, the shape of a lifetime – and the wisdom that accumulates with it – is described. 

Consequently, the film seems to play out both in real time – through long takes of languid conversation – and over a lifetime, or more. The way director Abbas Kiarostami dials between these registers makes it a compellingly unresolvable watch.

The film is set against the otherwordly yet all-too-wordly backdrop of Tehran’s industrial outskirts: building sites; crop fields; rubbish dumps.

Kiarostami stressed the importance of the post-war time frame to this landscape – it is situated in the wake of the Gulf War. But one aspect of the scenery – ripe with symbolism – stands out above all: “the most important motif in that environment was the dust itself,” Kiarostami said. “The dust had to be dominating everything.”

 

To top it all off, Kiarostami ends the film with a totally unexpected meta-cinematic twist.

All this inscrutable ingenuity isn’t for everyone – the critic Roger Ebert described it as “a lifeless drone”. But plenty of others, including ourselves, count it as an essential piece of cinematic poetry, blending earthy naturalism with transcendent metaphysics. TANKtv favourite Agnès Varda counted it as one of her favourite films.

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