Home Film Review Film Review: ‘Taste Of Cherry’ Engulfs you into the Absurdity of Suicide

Film Review: ‘Taste Of Cherry’ Engulfs you into the Absurdity of Suicide

The plotline intricately examines the plight and precarity of life without portraying any backdrop of natural calamity. As a matter of fact, the calamity in 'Taste of Cherry' is rather private and subjective. We are never told what it is. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of life itself.

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Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Cast: Homayon Ershadi, AbdolRahman Bagheri, Safar Ali Mouradi, Hossein Nooori, Ahmad Ansari, Afshin Khorshed Bhakhtiari

What is the prime purpose of life and why must one hold on to it till the very end? This question often pops up in our headspace whenever life seems to be falling apart and we get struck by a sudden wave of uncertainty and stifling sadness at disparate phases of life. Not to mention, some people find it too difficult to overcome this sense of inexplicable sorrow and consider suicide as the sole solution to put an end to their unabating misery. This anguish of reluctance to ‘live life’ coupled with hopelessness is very well portrayed in the movie Taste of Cherry

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami in 1997, Taste of Cherry is the first well-deserved Iranian movie to bag the title of Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, which it shared with The Eel by Shohei Imamura. It is a slow paced, dialogue – driven film depicting the life of a crestfallen character, Mr. Badii, who was around 50. He is a cryptic and ambiguous man who is scouting for someone who could bury his body after he commits suicide. Driving in a Range Rover around the outskirts of Tehran, populated by young men who are desperately hunting for work whom he asks for assistance from people to bury him.

In the entire span of the movie, he ends up picking 3 people in his car. Each person represents a disparate stage of life and holds a different school of thought around the solemn subject of suicide which is strongly condemned by the religion of Islam. The conversations that unfold in the car reveals the religious worldview on commiting suicide. Each character experiences discomfiture or a feeling of being intimidated as Badii tries to coerce them all with money.

Ironically, Mr Badi believes that money is a mighty medium that could mitigate their gony as he could sense that they are all in dire need of economic support. Hence, he attempts to aid them by proffering money and asks them to return him this favour by burying his body. The Range Rover is a metaphor for materialistic world which keeps on moving, no matter how many people die and succumb to their suffering.

Kiarostami’s audacity to frame the storyline around suicide and that too in a country like Iran during a period of heavy censorship earned him global fame. The movie delineates the invaluable aspect of life through a rhetorical inversion. Kiarostami has always used cinema as a means to replicate the repugnant and obnoxious realities of life and ‘Taste of Cherry’ is no exception.

Moreover, the plot has efficaciously highlighted the inner darkness around death. The movie mirrors the bittersweet essence of life and death. Every conversation carried out in the car revolves around life, death, suicide and the sorrowful situation Mr. Badi is going through. He is internally grappling with his emotions which in turn is smothering his soul.

The plotline intricately examines the plight and precarity of life without portraying any backdrop of natural calamity. As a matter of fact, the calamity in ‘Taste of Cherry’ is rather private and subjective. We are never told what it is. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of life itself. The movie has also shed light on the absurdity of war that divests people of mental peace, money, materialistic property and the generic idea of leading a normal peaceful life. Mr. Badii is cognizant of the fact that the crucial problem of destitution could act as a catalyst in aiding him to end his life.

Kiarostami’s technical style of presenting a narrative appears so raw that is potent enough to capture the attention of the audience with its climax. Same goes for ‘ Taste of cherry’ wherein, for the first ‘not so eye-pleasing’ 15 mins, one cannot readily decode what the main character is up to. However, the plot gradually unravels in such a way that it leaves the audience dumbfounded and jolted by emotions. The movie commences on a cryptic note and later on develops into an excruciating ending. The simplistic plot is successful in surpassing the mediocre predictable endings of other movies.

Through this movie, Kiarostami garnered worldwide attention and was critically acclaimed for his cinematography prowess. The movie’s focal point is to put forward a correspondence between Mr. Badi’s car and his body. Simply put, the car is a metaphor for life. He is very selective in choosing people and permitting them inside his car. This is to say that his car is his safe space and he doesn’t want anyone to invade it. When the first passenger sits in his car, the audience will certainly feel as uneasy as the first character. At that moment, it appears as if Mr Badii is a homosexual who is trying to molest him. Later on, the true nature of the job gets unveiled which depicts that he is not trying to scathe others but himself. The second passenger is a seminarian who also refuses.

The super slow pace in the beginning can easily dwindle the attention span of the audience which implicitly represents the mindset of the main character. The third passenger , who agrees to carry out the task, reminds Mr. Badii of the beauty of nature and the trivial things purveyed by Mother Earth that must be relished by humans rather than just stressing on the trials and tribulations of life. He opines that to be alive per say is a blessing and every moment of it must be cherished by mankind. To put it more plainly, he was sincerely trying to talk Mr. Badii out of committing suicide by highlighting the cons of committing suicide and the pleasurable pros of being alive.

This scene is a sweet reminder of why one must never give up on life because it has so much to offer and no suffering is as great as the solace and serenity offered by nature and life. Towards the end of the movie, the angle of the camera changes and Mr. Badi is silently listening to what the third passenger was saying without responding. The initial half of the movie is not as engaging as it was anticipated to be.

Having said that, the ending is full of suspense and open to various interpretations. The climax of the movie enhances the experience of the audience by evoking their empathising skills.

Another imperative aspect accentuated by Kiarostami is the sense of disconnection of a soul from a body. Mr. Badii is very much subsumed in contemplating the consequences of suicide on his body. The reverence he holds for his body is conspicuous throughout the movie. As a matter of fact, he is disconnected with his body and his mind wants to discard the body along with the suffering in the world.

However, he didn’t want his body to simply rot. Apparently, he is reluctant to leave his body without getting the assurance of its proper burial because he thought that his body deserves respect. It is a tacit depiction of veneration for a human body. The dialogue delivery by each character comes out very naturally. It doesn’t feel as if the director behind the lens is trying to push the narrative on his audience. The sound effects trigger sensory perception by multiple sounds – giggling children playing in a valley, the drone of distant construction vehicles, the use of car horns, or strange animal squeals hidden behind a hill is suggestive of worlds beyond the frame.

Kiarostami manages to contrive a deeply distraught yet subtle inspirational human figure. One can easily imagine that he’s had war traumas, but that’s not explicitly stated by him in the movie. He suffers alone, because, as he points out, one can comprehend somebody else’s pain, but not feel it. The key ingredient of Kiarostami’s films is unadulterated depiction of reality. It requires the spectators to permit the plot to enter their immune system prior to sensing the effects of it on their soul. Towards the end of Taste of Cherry, the emotionally impactful ambience hits the audience with a wave of poignance. The culmination is so relevant and poetic to the point of rupturing the heart of the viewers. They never learn why Mr. Badii wants to die, which allows the audience to project all types of things onto both the character and the actor who plays him.

The movie is an excellent exploration of dejection and the insurmountable pain that engulf Mr Badi which impels us to think about those moments wherein we ourselves reach the saturation point and feel most vulnerable. This abyss of anguish appears like a dead end to Mr. Badii, from where he is no longer willing to salvage himself but just wants to set his soul free in order to get this unbearable burden lifted off his chest.

The director has very well portrayed the ineffable mystery of life and the intangible weight of carrying a despondent heart through one specific scene which involves the shadow of a construction worker piling sand in a pit . In its penultimate scene, when Mr. Badi is lying completely still, apparently heading into an arena of darkness both literal and figurative, the audience is left uncanningly alone with themselves and their deepest tumultuous feelings about life. The stillness of the black screen, after he commits suicide at the end is a bit haunting because of the eerie silence that follows after death. Not to mention, this movie is all about exploring the essence of life and at the same divulging the absence of it. It wants us to savour, sense and taste life from every aspect. Portraying a priceless meaning, Kiarostami has done an impeccable job by simply projecting abstract suffering which can’t be recorded visually.

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