AKA: Ta’m-e Gilas…
Year Released: 1997
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Taxi (Jafar Panahi film), Before Your Eyes, Close-Up, Waiting for Happiness, Closed Curtain
-The 1999 Criterion Collection DVD was used for this review. It also just received a 4K and HD remaster around the time this review is released.
-Abbas Kiarostami was one of the filmmakers associated with the Iranian New Wave of cinema back in the 70s. He directed, wrote, and/or produced films from that decade all the way up to his death in 2016. Some of his other works are Close-Up, The Wind Will Carry Us, and 24 Frames which was a posthumous film for him.
-Taste of Cherry was a co-winner of the Palme d’Or Award at the Cannes Film festival alongside the Japanese film The Eel. Other movies that won the very same award would be Parasite, Taxi Driver, Fahrenheit 9/11, and even Pulp Fiction.
-This was the acting debut of Homayoung Ershadi who played Mr. Badii. He was a nonprofessional actor when he started out with Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami had a penchant for using amateurs in several of his films). He was also in a major movie a decade later when he appeared in The Kite Runner. Ershadi has also had parts in mainstream films with Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Wanted Man.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Okay, this is more of a morbidly humorous situation given the subject matter of the story. When Mr. Badii goes to the school where Mr. Bagheri teaches taxidermy and reminds him of his end of the deal, he constantly stresses to meet him at six. Is it too dark to say that I was reminded of the pop punk band You Me at Six with how he worded that reminder in the movie?
-Only two songs were used in the entirety of the film’s “soundtrack”. I use that term loosely because there are long stretches of background silence as well as the audio being natural noise in the environment. There’s the song “Khuda Yaret” by Ahmad Zaher which plays on the radio in one scene and the ending theme is the Louis Armstrong cover of “St. John’s Infirmary Blues”.
It has been a very long time since I’ve covered anything from the realm of Iranian cinema. Some of you may remember me reviewing multiple works from Jafar Panahi, the basketball documentary The Iran Job, or the animated autobiographical film Persepolis. One director that I should’ve reviewed something from sooner was Abbas Kiarostami. I didn’t know who he was until months before I started Iridium Eye. I did find out about Jafar Panahi first and it indirectly lead me to one of Kiarostami’s other works Close-Up which I regret not reviewing soon enough years ago (that could be something I should revisit when I have the chance). While I can’t rectify that mistake in that way, I thought it would be a good choice to see the other works from this pioneer of Iranian cinema.
Will this be a sweet watch? There’s a joke in there somewhere about cherry pie, cherry strudel, or putting a cherry on top of some dessert. I don’t know. Moving on…
Taste of Cherry deals with a man known as Mr. Badii. He’s driving around Tehran and people have been begging him to work for him. Badii is looking for the right person for the right job where they can make 200,000 Tomans in a day. What does this job entail? The job involves burying him alive and checking up on him the next morning to see if he’s alive or not. Badii asks multiple people if they want this morbid job where they can make a living off of him offing himself assuming he is able to escape. People such as soldiers, seminary students, and taxidermists are all asked by Mr. Badii to do the job. Who would be willing to take this lucrative offer of all that money as well as the cost of the driver’s own life?
Abbas Kiarostami has been renowned for his knack for naturalist cinema as well as for having understated stories. Those cases certainly shine through here. Despite being made in 1997 as well as not having a high budget, the camera work still holds up. Yes, there are lots of long takes, but they didn’t bother me at all surprisingly enough. I will say how things were shot was fascinating as well as a bit poetic. Even though Mr. Badii does his fair share of talking, the viewer rarely sees him in the same shots of the people he meets like with alternating close-up dialogue shots or him talking from far away from certain people. This was a metaphor for him being distant from others even if he’s close up (Kiarostami pun not intended) with someone else. That was a very nice touch. The lack of incidental music and soundtrack actually made this better. There’s no distraction from what’s going on which forces the viewer to pay attention to the dialogue or to see all the surroundings of the really mountainous terrain of Tehran and the outskirts. There’s a copious amount of earth tones with various browns, tans, and sepias on display. The acting from all the characters was very good and it also goes to show that neorealist films when done right can have people who can act far better than people who are paid exponentially more. I will also say that Mr. Bagheri’s initial conversation (although one can argue it was a monologue at that time) about his backstory was fascinating with the right amount of realistic optimism despite being in a very morose situation in his past. Then, there’s the ending. I won’t spoil this for anyone, but I guarantee you that none of you will see it coming as well as throwing you for a gigantic whiplash effect. Hint: Think about THAT plot twist in Closed Curtain. I thought it was so random at first until I saw a fridge brilliance of it offering something as the most unorthodox form of a happy ending I’ve ever seen in my life. It also offered a metaphor of optimism after what happens as well as utterly destroying most people’s perceptions of what movies (namely Hollywood, let’s keep it real here) are supposed to be. This will come entirely out of left field and will confuse the mainstream movie plebeians, but I managed to “get it”.
Taste of Cherry does get bitter at times. The biggest plot hole that has been criticized even by other reviewers is that the reason for Mr. Badii to kill himself is never explained. I did hear about some theories of Badii killing himself for having suppressed homosexual desires, especially in a country where that’s illegal, but I think that’s farfetched. There are clearly dated elements with the cars and one scene involves a payphone where one can instantly tell this was made in the 90s. I know Badii’s suicidal job offer plays a major role in the plot, there were unintentionally creepier aspects to his character mainly with his interaction with the Kurdish soldier. When the soldier asks a bunch of questions about what the job entails and Badii responds by telling him not to question as well as mentioning how much money he can make in a short amount of time, how can anyone not think of far more insidious ways that someone else can say in that position. Before the burial plot is revealed, one might assume that Badii would want the cadet to either be a drug mule, a last-minute hitman, or even resort to prostitution out of context. While I applaud Kiarostami for bucking Hollywood tropes, there are times he really overdoes it with how understated it can be or by intentionally not following typical mainstream movie conventions which can alienate so many potential viewers. If one is new to Kiarostami’s works or even the Iranian movie scene at large, then don’t let Taste of Cherry be the first movie you see from him.
This film is very unorthodox, but I did find there to have some meaning as well as a bit of a poetic story despite some of the flaws. Taste of Cherry certainly was a unique story in itself. The neorealism felt so authentic and it was a breath of fresh air seeing a non-conventional story with no frills or Hollywood-pandering crap in it. However, your mileage will vary with how this story will work out since this isn’t some glossy, wacky, or explosion-filled piece of entertainment. It’s far more meditative. I did knock my final score due to that giant plot hole with Badii’s character and I see how it can be divisive with certain moviegoers, but I found the positive to outweigh the negatives very much. I can tell Abbas Kiarostami wanted to make this story his way. Recommended.
Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you’re a fan of Abbas Kiarostami’s movies or neorealist films.
-Subtract 2-4 points if you prefer more conventionally made films.
-Good realist presentation
-The optimism shown is more brilliant in hindsight despite being abstract
-The plot hole in Badii’s motivations for suicide
-Can get too unconventional for Western audiences
-Can be too understated at times
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Advisory: Taste of Cherry should be fine for teens and up. The plot revolves around a suicide plan with Mr. Badii trying to be buried alive. He even reveals to pop a ton of sleeping pills once there’s enough earth on him. There’s some brief swearing, some smoking, and Mr. Bagheri gets very explicit in describing taxidermy on quails for his students. There’s also talk about topics with war mainly in the context of Afghanistan and mentioning the conflicts in Iranian Kurdistan in passing.
All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Taste of Cherry is property of The Criterion Collection. The DVD cover is from The Criterion Collection and is property of that company.