With the alleged Y2Pocalypse safely behind us, we can refocus our fears on more realistic terrors -- earthquakes! Fantasy tableaux of rivers running backward and cell-phone users being sucked into the San Andreas fault are all well and good, but acclaimed Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami offers a more ruminative take on Mother Earth's occasional shakin' fits in his rarely screened "Earthquake Trilogy."
Actually, there's no quake in the first film. Where Is the Friend's Home? (1987) takes us inside not only rural northern Iran but the mind of a 10-year-old schoolboy who defies family, culture, and terrain to return a lost notebook to a pal in a nearby village. This sweetly picaresque tale sounds like Disney on paper, but the director's close look at a preindustrial society and his skill with an amateur cast separate the film from such dreck by at least six degrees. Its young star, Bahek Ahmed Poor, is the subject of Part 2, And Life Goes On (1992). Here "Kiarostami" (played by an actor) takes his young son in search of Poor in the quake-devastated region of the first film. Painterly images of toppled houses and washed-out roads compete with quietly hopeful, often witty scenes of people who've lost everything, yet still embrace life. In a made-to-order metaphor, a villager who acted in the first film notes that while his own house was destroyed, the "film house" -- his residence in the first film -- continues to stand.
Completing the trilogy is Through the Olive Trees (1994), a droll mockumentary about a director (again an actor as "Kiarostami") trying to shoot a film in the same village and with some of the same actors as its predecessors. Here the quake is mere memory, its effects a poetic backdrop to a comic tale of an uncooperative actress and an actor hopelessly in love with her in "real life." Hossein Rezai is superb as the doomed suitor, and the film wrings bitter laughs out of his numbing attentions and teary paeans to a woman who prays for his demise.
Where Is the Friend's Home? screens Friday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m., with And Life Goes On showing Friday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. and Through the Olive Trees playing Friday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. All screen at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Tickets are $3-6; call 978-ARTS.