Tributes flow for Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, giant of world cinema

The Palme d’Or winner was known for his poetic parables of ordinary lives, often laced with dark humour. ‘He dared to do the things many others did not,’ says fellow Iranian director Asghar Farhadi

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 8:30pm

Tributes have flooded in from around the world for Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami following his death in France at the age of 76.

Acclaimed as a “towering figure” in world cinema, Kiarostami, who won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 for Taste of Cherry, emerged from the Iranian New Wave of the late 1960s to become one of the world’s most revered directors.

Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese praised his “extraordinary body of work”.

“He was a true gentleman, and, truly, one of our great artists,” Scorsese told The Hollywood Reporter.

Hundreds of people flocked to the beautiful grounds of Tehran’s Museum of Cinema late on Tuesday to remember him. Among them was Asghar Farhadi, perhaps Iran’s most successful director.

“He wasn’t only important for Iranian cinema – already for a long time he’s been an avant gardist for the whole of world cinema. He dared to do the things that many did not dare to do,” said Farhadi.

Kiarostami’s poetic parables of ordinary lives won him international acclaim, with French director Jean-Luc Godard once declaring that “film begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami”.

Actor Homayoun Ershadi, who starred in Taste of Cherry, said: “I still haven’t found the words to express my sense of loss.”

News of Kiarostami’s death broke late on Monday, with Iranian media reporting he died from a blood clot in the brain after months of treatment for intestinal problems.

The Iranian Students’ News Agency said he had returned to Iran from his home in Paris to undergo several operations between February and April, before travelling back to France last week for further treatment.

“Kiarostami’s different and deep outlook on life, and his invitation to peace and friendship, will be an everlasting achievement,” tweeted President Hassan Rouhani.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif added: “Iran has lost a towering figure in international cinema.”

Just last week, Kiarostami had been invited to join the Academy in Hollywood as part of efforts to increase the diversity of its Oscar judges.

“He wasn’t just a filmmaker. He was a modern mystic, both in his cinema and his private life,” Farhadi told Britain’s The Guardian.

He wasn’t just a filmmaker. He was a modern mystic, both in his cinema and his private life
Asghar Farhadi

Iranian cinemas paused Tuesday screenings for a prayer in Kiarostami’s memory.

Deciding to stay on after the Islamic revolution of 1979, Kiarostami was able to skirt the difficulties faced by other directors since his films were never overtly political, preferring to tell philosophical tales about the lives of ordinary people.

Although some of his films were banned in Iran, he became an ambassador for the country’s continued cultural riches.

“On the one hand, there is the state cinema, financed by the authorities ... then there is an independent sector that is flourishing,” he said at Cannes in May.

French President Francois Hollande praised the director for forging “close artistic ties and deep friendships”.

Born in the Iranian capital on June 22, 1940, Kiarostami studied painting at the University of Tehran before working as a graphic designer and director of commercials.

He joined the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in 1969 as head of the film department, freeing him to make his own films.

Two years later, he released his first work, a short film called Bread and Alley, followed by the feature-length The Traveller in 1973, which confirmed him as a pioneer of the “realism” school.

Kiarostami was launched on to the international stage by his “Koker” trilogy, starting with 1987’s Where is the Friend’s Home?.

His films – known for their modest style, dark realism and sly humour – were almost always shot in real locations, often featuring non-actors.

“Some refer to his pictures as ‘minimal’ or ‘minimalist’, but it’s actually the opposite,” Scorsese told The Hollywood Reporter.

“Every scene in Taste of Cherry or Where Is the Friend’s House? is overflowing with beauty and surprise, patiently and exquisitely captured.”

Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or in 1997 led to some difficulties at home after French actress Catherine Deneuve gave him a kiss while presenting the award – sparking the fury of conservatives in Iran.

He went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the Venice film festival two years later for The Wind Will Carry Us.

Kiarostami travelled the world in his later years, making films such as Certified Copy in Italy and Like Someone in Love in Japan.

Although this afforded him greater freedom from Iran’s censors, it was also an attempt, he said, to tell stories about “universal characters, that can be accessible to everyone”.