A Creative Geography

Abbas Kiarostami to be presented with the Akira Kurosawa Award

In some ways, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is the stereotypical candidate for the film festival's Akira Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement in film directing. He's from a country with "issues" with the U.S., whose movie industry is only beginning to be recognized by the West; his films are doggedly humanist, with an interest in children and rural settings, but framed by knowing self-reflexivity; and, helpfully, Kurosawa himself has expressed his approval.

But to Kiarostami's credit, his films consistently elude stereotyping. Of course the works to which we've had access have their signature winding dirt roads -- with the determined protagonist climbing the zigzag bends in long shot -- and in many of them a would-be filmmaker struggles to reconcile his calling with the way things are. But Kiarostami's works open up tantalizing possibilities and mysteries that a purely humanist director would leave alone. I've seen only his films since Where Is the Friend's Home? (1987), so I have to be satisfied, from reading a description of Kiarostami's first feature film, The Traveler, that both share a boy obsessed with a project that precludes doing his homework, suggesting that his pursuit of his obsession will ultimately reap greater rewards. In the 1992 And Life Goes On..., a filmmaker tries to revisit the location of the 1987 film to see if the actors survived a devastating earthquake. But his son is more interested, like the protagonist of The Traveler, in seeing a soccer game with the survivors.

In Kiarostami's latest film, The Wind Will Carry Us, another would-be documentarist creates his own humdrum rhythms in a village as he waits for his film subject to die. Although it explores some of the same issues such as obsession and appearances, the 1991 Close-Up sets itself apart as a fascinating study of one man's search for respect and film start-up money. Every one of these films is worth a look, but taken together they indeed map a "creative geography" (the director's words) unique to Kiarostami's body of work.

Abbas Kiarostami will be presented with the Akira Kurosawa Award Sunday, April 30, at 3:30 p.m. at the AMC Kabuki theater.

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