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.