Confronting Mental Instability in Abbas Kiarostami’s TASTE OF CHERRY (1997)
An analysis of the tough decision to take one’s life as presented in Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 Palme d’Or winning masterpiece, Taste of Cherry.
This month on my podcast has been devoted to discussing international cinema. Of course, I did this to progress on my 75 Films From Asia challenge I have been embarrassingly failing. I chose to review Close-Up (1990) and Joint Security Area (2000), while my co-host chose Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (blog post on that to come) and Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry. All four of these films I have never seen at all. Well, after today lets just say that I am making a big addition to my favorite movies of all-time list.
Now, before I continue on I do have to warn you that if the topic of suicide and suicidal ideation is a touchy subject for you, I understand if you do not keep reading past this point. I do respect the needs for warnings, but this film affected me in a way where I must discuss the very tough subject matter of taking one’s own life.
I hope if you are reading this third paragraph you have respected the warning before and are reading on your accords. Taste of Cherry follows a man from Tehran, Iran as he searches for someone to help bury his body after he decides to kill himself for reasons never explained throughout the motion picture. The film has just received a recent upscaled 4K restoration that is streaming on The Criterion Channel. Stunningly shot and directed by the Iranian New Wave director Abbas Kiarostami. I can spend forever reviewing the technical aspects and such about this film, but to be honest I do enough of that on my podcast.
I want to discuss the heartbreaking subject matter of suicide as it is presented in this film. Mr. Badii continues on his search for someone to bury him but he fails with each person. One of the men bolts off back to their army barracks and the other man, a seminary student, lectures him on the sin of taking one’s life. Now, both of these characters provide their very insightful look into suicide but it is not until an Azeri taxidermist has a conversation with him that I am aware that what I am watching is a masterpiece.
I always have a goal to be as vulnerable and honest in my writing as possible, so here goes nothing. I have been on antidepressants since 2015 and have been fighting with Bipolar II since I was diagnosed in 2016. This has been an incredibly tough fight every day (which is why I say that cinema saved me, it is the only thing that brings me happiness in this world) and I would be lying if I did not have the thoughts that Mr. Badii had in this film. People do not realize that reaching these thoughts is not a straight linear step. It takes so much time to get to the point of even thinking of taking one’s life. Even though the road to these thoughts is long being listened to and having someone to talk you out can be a quick solution at times (I can only speak on my experience not that of others).
You can read the dread on Mr. Badii’s face throughout this film, but the words spoken by the people around him are just as important to analyze. The remainder of the beauty of seeing a sunrise and sunset as explained by the taxidermist or the sweet taste of fruit reminded me of the beauty of being alive. Mr. Badii has made his accords with wanting to take his life but slips in and out of the decision throughout the picture. Every person that interacts with him brings in a different perspective of what is special about being alive and that they too are battling the same hardships of Mr. Badii.
In the end, Kiarostami cuts to camcorder footage of the filming of the movie in an interesting fourth wall break. In the footage, you see the beautiful scenery but a smiling Kiarostami as he directs his film and does what he loves the most. I think this sort of epilogue is Kiarostami’s way of consoling the audience and reminding us that he too has been there before but it is filmmaking that has helped him cope with existence. It is him reminding us directly that life is not easy and never will be but there is always something that makes living worth it. Whether it is the smell of fruit, the plants in your garden, filming motion to convey emotion, or whatever brings a smile to your face is worth existing on this planet. I remember telling my Single Camera Production professor that life without a passion is not worth living. If we all are mindless beings existing without a purpose we would not have won the lottery of being born. Each person on this Earth has a reason to continue going even though they have not realized it themselves yet. Just like Taste of Cherry reminds us, the world holds so many beauty and secrets that it is worth staying here just a bit longer, but most importantly that sometimes all we need is just a friend to listen. We are not alone even though it may feel like that it is most certainly not true.