Abbas Kiarostami: The Face of Modernity; Alienation and Transcendence in Taste of Cherry (1997)

  • M. Gail Hamner
Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


During the 1990s Abbas Kiarostami’s films rose to international prominence and global consumption. As is often the case, the director’s fame spurred debate about whether he really merited this critical acclaim, and in Iran, the debate was framed in terms of whether Kiarostami really was authentically Iranian (as opposed to “French” or “Western”). The discussion reached new intensity after Taste of Cherry won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes film festival in 1997, an achievement that left Iranian officials baffled.2 This chapter examines the fame question in terms of the problems of consuming cultural difference. To do this, the argument turns directly to Kiarostami’s cinematic form, and to my overriding question concerning religion and nostalgia. The question of consuming cultural difference raises the conundrums of indigenous and authentic “identity politics,” dilemmas I will cut through using Kiarostami’s own investment in a cinematic form constructed through the intersections of aesthetics, religion, and politics. Finally, the question of religion and nostalgia reads the motifs of intimacy and exchange in Taste of Cherry through Marx’s German Ideology, and Kiarostami’s use of close-up and editing.


Iranian Society Film Critic German Ideology Poetic Form Free Indirect Discourse 
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  1. 1.
    Jean-Luc Nancy, Evidence of Film/L’Évidence du film: Abbas Kiarostami. (Bruxelles: Yves Gevaert éditeur, 2001), 70. The French original reads: “L’image n’est pas donnée, il faut l’approcher: l’évidence n’est pas ce qui tombe n’importe comment sous le sens, comme on dit. L’évidence est ce qui se présente á la juste distance, ou bien cela enface de quoi on trouve la distance juste, la proximité qui lasse la rapport avoir lieu, et qui engage à la continuité” (71).Google Scholar
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    “They just could not fathom how such a film, devoid of clear-cut dramatic intensity, could be awarded a prize of that caliber. So that became the perfect ground for misunderstanding the relationship between me and the “Western” audience. They imagined secret connections outside the film, bribery and what not.…” Interview with Kiarostami published in Lila Azam Zanganeh, ed., My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 88.Google Scholar
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    See Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), Chapter 2. These authors call the period from 1941–1953 a “democratic interlude” (46). As they relate, Reza Shah had been made to step down in 1941 by the Allied forces because they wished to control troop and supply movements to the Soviet Union, and because of continuing persistent disagreements over Iran’s oil supply. Mohammed-Reza Shah, his son, acceded to the Pahlavi throne, but parliament attained more power during these years, and the role of the prime minister became more important. This period ended when a military coup, backed by the United States and Britain (again in the interest of oil supplies), overthrew Prime Minister Mosaddeq, and returned power to the Shah.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Some references give the date of Bread and Alley as 1969. Stuart Klawans lists Kiarostami’s first feature film as The Traveler (1974). See Stuart Klawans, “Nine Views in a Looking Glass: Film Trilogies by Chahine, Gitai, and Kiarostami,” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 23, no. 1/2 (2001): 231. Almost every biographical sketch of Kiarostami includes a discussion of Kanun.Google Scholar
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    Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa suggests that the quest of the protagonist in Taste of Cherry “ recalls Hedayat’s suicide at the age of forty-eight,” and so the narratively sparse film may actually signal Iran’s rich and complicated historical and cultural tapestry. Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum, Abbas Kiarostami (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 60.Google Scholar
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    Derrida views this dichotomous approach as a containment strategy, an attempt to explain the “surge” of Islam from purely internal factors (“interior to the history of faith, of religion, of languages and cultures as such”) instead of forging pathways between these factors and external “dimensions” such as “technoscientific, tele-biotechnological, which is to say also political and socioeconomic, etc.”). See Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” in Religion, ed. Derrida and Gianni Vattimo, trans. David Webb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 20; quoted in Michael M. J. Fischer, “Filmic Judgment and Cultural Critique: The Work of Art, Ethics, and Religion in Iranian Cinema,” in Religion and Media, ed. Hent De Vries and Samuel Weber, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 457.Google Scholar
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    Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 191.Google Scholar

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© M. Gail Hamner 2011

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