|Taste of Cherry|
|Directed by||Abbas Kiarostami|
|Produced by||Abbas Kiarostami|
|Written by||Abbas Kiarostami|
Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari
Safar Ali Moradi
|Distributed by||Zeitgeist Films|
|May, 1997 (Cannes)|
September 28, 1997 (New York Film Festival)
January 30, 1998 (U.S.)
June 5, 1998 (UK)
Taste of Cherry (Persian: طعم گيلاس..., Ta’m-e gīlās...) is a 1997 Iranian drama film written, produced and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. It is a minimalist film about a man who drives through a city suburb, in search of someone who can carry out the task of burying him after he commits suicide. It was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, which it shared with The Eel.
Mr Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), a middle-aged man, drives through Tehran looking for someone to do a job for him, for which he offers a large amount of money. During his drives with prospective candidates, Badii reveals that he plans to kill himself and has already dug the grave. He tells the people he is soliciting to go to the spot he has chosen the next morning, and either help him up, if he has chosen to live, or to bury him, if he has chosen to die. He does not discuss why he wants to commit suicide.
His first recruit is a young, shy Kurdish soldier, who refuses to do the job and flees from Badii's car. His second recruit is an Afghan seminarist, who also declines because he has religious objections to suicide. The third is an Azeri taxidermist. He is willing to help Badii because he needs the money for his sick child. He tries to convince Badii not to commit suicide, and reveals that he too wanted to commit suicide a long time ago but chose to live when, after failing his attempt, he tasted mulberries. The Azeri promises to throw dirt on Badii if he finds him dead in the morning. That night, Badii lies in his grave while a thunderstorm begins. After a long blackout, the film ends by breaking the fourth wall with camcorder footage of Kiarostami and the film crew filming Taste of Cherry, leaving Badii's choice unknown.
The film is minimalist in that it is shot primarily with long takes; the pace is leisurely and there are long periods of ambient (background) sound, which the closing sequence shows the crew recording. Mr. Badii is rarely shown in the same shot as the person he is talking to (this is partly because during the filming, director Kiarostami was sitting in the car's passenger seat).
The film does not include a background score, except for the ending titles. This features a trumpet piece, Louis Armstrong's 1929 adaptation of "St. James Infirmary Blues." The only other song featured in the film is "Khuda Bowad Yaret" (May God be your protector) by Afghan singer Ahmad Zaher, which is played in the background on a radio about 38 minutes into the film.
Taste of Cherry was awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival in the year of its release, tied with Shohei Imamura's The Eel.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 84% based on 38 reviews, with the "critics consensus" reading, "Taste of Cherry's somewhat simple aesthetic belies a richly ambiguous character study with an impressively ambitious thematic scale." Rob Aldman of Backseat Mafia described the film as "an assured and studied meditation on the question of whether life is worth living". Matthew Lucas of From the Front Row wrote:
"The ending is ambiguous in the most lovely Kiarostami tradition, but its segue into behind the scenes footage is as exhilarating as it is disorienting. It's as if the film is on the verge of revealing all the answers of life itself, and then pulls back at the last second, returning the mystery to the audience. In doing so it attains a kind of haunting mysticism, profoundly shifting the audience's perception of reality. It's Kiarostami's finest work, and one of the best films of the 1990s."
Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film "simultaneously epic and precisely minuscule", writing that "it isn't until Badii meets the taxidermist that the film finds a lyrical voice to match its powerful visual imagery. His gorgeous, rough-hewn soliloquy about regaining his zest for life after trying to hang himself from a mulberry tree is a simple, eloquent parable of the senses opening to the refreshment of life's simple pleasures." According to Stanley Kauffman of The New Republic, "As the film's design becomes clear to us, a quiet spaciousness begins to inhabit it."
Of the minority of negative reviews, Roger Ebert's in The Chicago Sun-Times was the most scathing, giving the film 1 out of 4 stars. Ebert dismissed the film as "excruciatingly boring" and added,
"I understand intellectually what Kiarostami is doing. I am not impatiently asking for action or incident. What I do feel, however, is that Kiarostami's style here is an affectation; the subject matter does not make it necessary, and is not benefited by it. If we're to feel sympathy for Badhi, wouldn't it help to know more about him? To know, in fact, anything at all about him? What purpose does it serve to suggest at first he may be a homosexual? (Not what purpose for the audience--what purpose for Badhi himself? Surely he must be aware his intentions are being misinterpreted.) And why must we see Kiarostami's camera crew--a tiresome distancing strategy to remind us we are seeing a movie? If there is one thing Taste of Cherry does not need, it is such a reminder: The film is such a lifeless drone that we experience it only as a movie."
Ebert later went on to add the film to a list of his most hated movies of all time.
In his own review of Kiarostami's film, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader awarded it a full four stars. Responding to Ebert's criticisms, Rosenbaum wrote:
"A colleague who finds Taste of Cherry "excruciatingly boring" objects in particular to the fact that we don’t know anything about Badii, to what he sees as the distracting suggestion that Badii might be a homosexual looking for sex, and to what he sees as the tired "distancing strategy" of reminding us at the end that we’re seeing a movie. From the perspective of the history of commercial Western cinema, he has a point on all three counts. But Kiarostami couldn’t care less about conforming to that perspective, and given what he can do, I can’t think of any reason he should care... the most important thing about the joyful finale is that it’s the precise opposite of a "distancing effect." It does invite us into the laboratory from which the film sprang and places us on an equal footing with the filmmaker, yet it does this in a spirit of collective euphoria, suddenly liberating us from the oppressive solitude and darkness of Badii alone in his grave... Kiarostami is representing life in all its rich complexity, reconfiguring elements from the preceding 80-odd minutes in video to clarify what’s real and what’s concocted... Far from affirming that Taste of Cherry is "only" a movie, this wonderful ending is saying, among other things, that it’s also a movie."
Since the film's release, multiple other critics have also declared it a masterpiece; in the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound poll, six critics and two directors named Taste of Cherry one of the 10 best films ever made.
On June 1, 1999, The Criterion Collection released the film onto DVD. On July 21, 2020, Criterion released the film on Blu-ray with a new 4K restoration.