Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, TASTE OF CHERRY comes from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. On the surface, this is a simple film about a man who wishes to commit suicide and his final preparations before the act. The man, known only as Mr. Badii, drives around the desolate outskirts of Tehran searching for a stranger who might help him in his final deed.The bulk of the film takes place inside the cramped quarters of Mr. Badii’s car. When the character does venture outside of the vehicle, it is usually into the barren landscape where he encounters a host of needy men, many of whom are looking for work. Mr. Badii is looking for someone who will bury his body after his suicide – or save him if his attempt is unsuccessful. During the course of his travels (and the film) he encounters several unwilling candidates before settling on an elderly taxidermist who agrees to help simply because Mr. Badii will pay him and he needs the money for his sick child.
First though, the old man offers his insight into suicide, including the story of his own attempt years earlier and the “taste of cherry” – the appreciation of life – which saved him from himself. This encounter with the old man gives Mr. Badii pause to consider his wish before making a final decision on the matter which leads to a twist ending that is bound to surprise even the most seasoned viewer.
Hailed by many critics as a masterpiece for its celebration of humanity and panned by just as many for its boring plot that literally drives around in circles, TASTE OF CHERRY actually falls somewhere between these two extreme viewpoints. It is certainly not a great film, but neither is it a bad one. General audiences should probably stay clear of it – if you find subtitles difficult, keep in mind that in addition to that this film has practically no music score and long lapses of silence and inactivity on the part of the characters. So if you’re going to suggest a rental for Aunt Matilda, better stick to STEPMOM and leave TASTE OF CHERRY for the more daring filmgoers.
If you rank among the latter group however, and are willing to acclimate yourself to the meandering slow pace of much of the film, you may find TASTE OF CHERRY to be rewarding. The almost cinema verite feel of the film produces a string of realistic and interesting characters who drift in and out of the threadbare narrative. One wonders if they are actors or simply real people plucked off the street by Kiarostami. Mr. Badii himself (Homayoun Ershadi) is the most engaging character in the film – as he carries out his existential play, we never learn anything about his motives or his life. Why does he want to kill himself? Where is his family? His wife? These issues are purposely never addressed, contributing to the narrative austerity of the film. It is a stylistic choice on the director’s part, and one that works on some levels but fails on others.
The film’s coda is enigmatic to be sure – I won’t give it away here, but suffice to say that Mr. Badii’s dilemma takes on a whole new dimension by the time of the finale. The ending gives one the impression that Kiarostami hasn’t really been playing fair with his audience – regardless, ultimately the film is one strange cookie. Still, it is an interesting cinematic experience if you’re willing to take it on its own terms.This Criterion Collection DVD is in widescreen format and includes scene selection, English subtitles, a director filmography and the theatrical trailer. Also included is a 36-minute interview with Kiarostami that offers some insight into his work.-- SCOTT COLLURA