ABBAS KIAROSTAMI: IMAGE, VOICE AND VISION

Conference - Abstracts

Cooling Down a 'Hot Medium'

Jamsheed Akrami, William Patterson University, Wayne (NJ)

Abbas Kiarostami may have done more than any other contemporary filmmaker to redefine film in its McLuhanesque characterization as a hot medium with high definition and low audience participation. Through boldly devising and revising a uniquely personal cinematic discourse, Kiarostami has consistently attempted to 'cool down' the film medium by lowering its definition and forcing audience's increased involvement. He has also progressively trimmed the size of his films to reduce the filmmaking experience from a collective endeavor to an almost solitary act of artistic expression.

As a novice filmmaker in the early 70s, Kiarostami seemed to be awed and at times even intimidated by the techniques and mechanics of the film production. Throughout his career, he never attempted to master the medium in the fashion a professional filmmaker would by tackling larger projects and directing in different genres. He showed no interest in developing his directorial muscles by staging extravagant combat scenes or complicated chase scenes in large-scale productions. Instead, he tried to temper the medium to his own specifications. Midway through his career he appeared to have found his own niche when he made the 'Koker Trilogy', and thus come into terms with the medium, but later he abandoned the comfortable confines of a self-invented genre to continue his reductive experimentations.

This presentation explores the formal and narrative devices Kiarostami has employed to gradually cool down a hot medium over the 35-year span of his filmmaking career.

Lyrical Rhythm and Film

Michael Beard, University of North Dakota, Grand Fords (ND)

It may seem counter-intuitive to speak of Abbas Kiarostami's films in terms of lyric poetry, as their deliberate, prolonged pace is so insistently cerebral in its appeal. The fact that Kiarostami writes poetry would not in itself make his films lyrical. (It could suggest the contrary--that he reserved his poetry for one esthetic, his films for another.)

From the process of collaborating on translations of his poetry I have come to notice elements of his filmmaking that we might call poetic, but which require some definitional precision. This paper proposes a close reading of Where is the Friend's House (a title which quotes the great lyric poet Sohrab Sepehry) to examine its narrative rhythms. It is the contention of this paper that the term 'lyric' in its most precise use is not so much an anti-narrative phenomenon as an extra-narrative one, a phenomenon which locates corners of narrative, where the audience's focus is broadened, forced outside the context of the fiction, and that those moments can best be approached through attention to the narrative pace, the techniques of story-telling which shift narrative gears. The examples are from the films of Kiarostami, but the thrust of the discussion is to demonstrate how his particular approach to filmmaking can help us construct a more precise definition of the lyric moment as it enters both literature and the visual arts.

Who's Milking Who? Abbas Kiarostami's Dialectical Approach to Ethnography

Rasmus Brendstrup, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen

The paper will focus on The Wind Will Carry Us and the culturally ambiguous character of the 'ethnographer'. The ambiguity of this character may help to explain why Abbas Kiarostami's works tends to be regarded as 'Other' by large fractions of national and international audiences alike. Samples of criticism will be discussed in relation to central scenes in the film to support this thesis - and also to suggest that the most constructive approach to The Wind Will Carry Us is to regard Kiarostami not as a director belonging to one or the other 'camp'. In his film, Kiarostami lets his audiences have it 'both ways', so to speak: One finds in it support for Eurocentric visions of 'Otherness' (the main character's 'ethnographic' project), but also for anti-globalistic world views and perhaps even a Nativist scepticism towards the entire project of Modernity (the 'ethnographer's failure). By not pointing to these world views as mutually exclusive, Kiarostami indirectly points to the film's many instances of negotiation and forces the viewer to take his or her prejudices and automated responses into account. Through this, Kiarostami - in his seemingly non-didactic way - engages in the bridging of a cultural gap exactly through his deceptive offering support for Nativist and Eurocentric readings at the same time.

Adaption, Fidelity, and Transformation: Kiarostami and the Modernist Poetry of Iran

Sima Daad, University of Washington, Seattle.

Adaptation is defined as the transformation of a prior to a new text. Whether transformation occurs between two homogenous texts, for instance, one written text to another, or between two heterogeneous texts, like written to visual, it engages a creative reproduction of the adapted text with bearings of new intervention. Creative vitality of adaptation is the consequence of this intentional processing of the old into an original and unique new. Cinema is ontologically and inherently an industry of adaptation. It appropriates the potential of other sources to create a unique visual work, a film. As such, a major topic in film theories address adaptation of novel to film, both depending on narrative discourse for communication. Kiarostami's films, Where is the Friend's House? and The Wind Will Carry Us are examples of adaptation. But the creative merit of his adaptation of Sohrab Sepehri and Forough Farrokhzad's poems extends the domain of textual transformation and arrives at theoretical realm of adaptation by expanding its limit from inter-textual potential to trans-generic potential. The methodology of this trans-generic adaptation is largely dependent on Kiarostami's iconography and editing strategy, which ultimately opens space for re-definition of other theoretical aspects such as 'fidelity' in film studies. This analysis of Kiarostamis' cinematic narration of two lyrical poems is commended by such theoretical contemplations.

Dream of Light: Kiarostami, Erice and the History of Cinema

Alberto Elena, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid

Abbas Kiarostami has probably never been a formal expert on the history of cinema, but rather a director who has been trained and shaped by filmmaking itself. However, over the years Kiarostami has developed his own particular style which de facto calls into question many of the assumptions of mainstream cinema today, and also forces us to reconsider numerous aspects of our conventional view of the history of cinema. Through 10 on Ten, a kind of belated declaration of principles, but above all through a countless number of texts, interviews, seminars etc, Kiarostami powerfully questions the prevailing model of filmmaking, and invokes instead a certain lost purity of so-called cinéma des origins - which unquestionably Kiarostami's recent work on digital video closely resembles. Kiarostami's agenda, by necessity highly unusual within modern cinema, nevertheless coincides significantly with that of the Spanish director Victor Erice - which perhaps explains their professions of mutual admiration. Erice has won international recognition with three splendid full-length features: El Espíritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive), El Sur (South) and El Sol del Membrillo (Dream of Light), but he remains a relatively little-known figure in academic circles, which is why his work is rarely mentioned in connection with Kiarostami's, despite the undeniable similarities and parallels. An exploration of the poetics of both these directors will almost certainly help to throw more light on their respective works, and in particular to trace the coordinates they are using to rewrite the history of cinema itself in an age of galloping audiovisual inflation.

Simplicity and Bliss: Poems of Abbas Kiarostami

Narguess Farzad, School of Oriental & Africa Studies, London

Abbas Kiarostami, along with Ridley Scott, Jean Cocteau, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Derek Jarman and Gulzar, is part of a tradition of filmmakers whose artistic expressions are not restricted to one medium but show comparable ease in using other forms such as poetry, set designs, painting or photography to relate their interpretation of the world we live in and to illustrate their understanding of our preoccupations and identities.

Like his films and many of his photographic works, Kiarostami's poems are all at once beautiful, surprising, insightful, at times humorous, occasionally palpable and generally simple. With a filmmaker's vision Kiarostami's short poems deliver a first impression of subjects from the natural world and daily life, albeit an uncluttered life. However, these exquisite snap shots articulate for the reader another dimension of a seemingly familiar situation. Kiarostami effortlessly teases out the unexpected from the mundane.

The interrelation of images, the contrast and paradox, the deliberate or instinctive use of caesura and subtle brushstrokes of colour, all meld to evoke a spirit of reverence for life and celebration of beauty in all things natural. In this respect Kiarostami's poetry is reminiscent of the later nature poems of the Iranian painter-poet, Sohrab Sepehri. On the other hand the succinct allusion to philosophical truths without the need for deliberation, the non-judgemental tone of the poetic voice and the structure of the poem- absence of personal pronouns, adverbs or over reliance on adjectives - as well as the lines containing a kigo (a season word) gives much of this poetry a Haikuesque characteristic.

This paper will evaluate the success of the poetry of Abbas Kiarostami, especially his depiction of nature, in the context of short poetic forms in Persian and particularly with reference to the later poems of Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1981).

The Particular and the Universal in Kiarostami's Films

Christopher Gow, University of Warwick, Coventry

In his book Close Up - Iranian Cinema: Past, Present and Future, Hamid Dabashi provocatively describes the stable scene from Abbas Kiarostami's 1999 film The Wind Will Carry Us, as 'one of the most violent rape scenes in all of cinema' and accuses Kiarostami himself of allowing 'the global celebration of his genius to go to his head'. According to Dabashi, in The Wind Will Carry Us Kiarostami betrays his previous portrayals of Iran and the 'Iranian particular', by universalising it and pandering to European and American Third Worldist tastes for the exotic. Via an alternative reading of this scene, and of the film overall, this paper takes issue with Dabshi's polemic, and argues that The Wind Will Carry Us can be regarded as just as complex and polysemous in it's representation of 'Iranian reality' as Kiarostami's previous films. The paper will also consider briefly how and to what extent Kiarostami's subsequent feature film Ten can be seen as a direct response to accusations from critics such as Dabashi, representing as it does a marked departure from Kiarostami's more lyrical, picturesque style of filmmaking.

From Kinetic Poetics to a Poetic Cinema: Abbas Kiarostami and the Esthetics of Persian Poetry

Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, University of Maryland, College Park (MD)

An aspect of Abbas Kiarostami's artistic achievement that eludes those unfamiliar with Persian poetry and that has, therefore, remained inaccessible to many among his audiences has to do with the way he turns poetic images into cinematic ones. This is most obvious in those Kiarostami films that recall specific texts of Persian poetry more or less explicitly: "Where's the Friend's Home" and "The Wind will Carry Us." However, the esthetic involved here goes much farther back in time and is used much more subtly than these examples suggest. Beyond issues of adaptation of text to film, Kiarostami tends to begin with an insistent will to give visual embodiment to certain specific image-making techniques in Persian poetry, both classical and contemporary, and often ends up enunciating a larger philosophical position, namely the ontological oneness of poetry and film.

In this paper, I will relate specific scenes and vignettes from Kiarostami's films to certain images in Persian poetry to argue that it is that context, combined with the artist's growing resistance to an assumed duality, even binary opposition, between visual and verbal image-making techniques still prevalent in esthetics of cinema in Western cultures, that allows the artist to communicate sophisticated messages with the kind of simplicity all too often absent from the technique-laden artistry of much modern-day filmmaking. Focusing on a select few classical images in the poetry of a few Persian classics - Rudaki and Hafez, for example - as well as such modernists as Nima, Akhavan, Farrokhzad, and Sepehri, I will anchor my argument in a contention based on the continuity of the Persian language and a millennium-old dynamic of artistic signification based on it, to demonstrate the principle at work in Kiarostami's films and poems alike.

Abbas Kiarostami: Portrait of the Artist as Tutor and Tyro

Erik Nakjavani, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh (PA)

The intention in this essay is to explore the central role that a certain mode of pedagogy, the dialectic of teaching as learning and learning and as teaching as interpretive acts, plays in Kiarostami's art. As a consequence, it also defines and makes manifest the necessity of theoretically articulating the prerequisites for this specific kind of artistic pedagogy: Its foundational epistemology and attendant methodology. The double but integral concepts of 'tyro as tutor' and 'tutor as tyro' take place early in Kiarostami's cinematic career in his dual enterprise of learning and teaching. Falling as it does at the crossroads of the imaginary and the experiential in children's lives, Bread and Alley initiates the series of educational films he made for Kanoon (The Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). Later, the creative pedagogy inherent in these early films would deepen, expand and modify itself in his feature films and would subsequently extend to his photography and poetry as well.

The epistemological substrate of Kiarostami's unique artistic pedagogy derives from his open-ended phenomenological hermeneutics of the visual and ekphrastic (scriptural) images in their primal burst on the individual consciousness. In their perspectival, interpretive, and heuristic unfolding, such images evoke the multiplicities of truths of the human world in individual responses to Kiarostami's artistic works whose ensemble by definition constitutes a limitless epistemology.

Kiarostami's devised artistic methodology comprises a threefold mode of 'theoretical practice' which flow from his imagist epistemology: (1) devising strategies to cancel the habitual forms of individual visual comprehension; (2) eliciting therefore new and competing, even conflicting, pluralities of responses to a specific or cluster of images; (3) and the appropriation and dissemination of these responses as discourses in ever-expanding circuits of knowledge of our lived and perceived world. The essay concludes that the compelling achievement of Kiarostami's artistic pedagogy resides in putting each spectator or reader at the center of a double creative world.

The essay concludes that the compelling achievement of Kiarostami's artistic pedagogy resides in putting each spectator or reader at the center of a double creative world: his and theirs.

Religion and Spirituality in Kiarostami's Works

Nacim Pak, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Many critics read Kiarostami's works as alluding to the spiritual. However, these references have been restricted mainly to parallels drawn between certain imagery in the films with that of Sufi concepts. Depicting the sacred through the profane in a medium such as film is a challenge for any director wishing to address the metaphysical without falling into the trap of the dogmatic. Kiarostami is no exception.

This paper examines the treatment of religion and spirituality in Kiarostami's works by going beyond drawing parallels between the pictures and Sufism. It studies Kiarostami's poetic approach to the mystical and his depiction of the conflicts of death and life, religion and faith, as well as tradition and modernity in contemporary life. His poetic celebration of life and its meaning make interesting comparisons with Wittgenstein's philosophy. This paper argues that the sacred in Kiarostami's works is not to be found in the supernatural or miracles, but rather in the everyday life of human beings and their surroundings. This approach is not, however, a way for Kiarostami to avoid dealing with the issues of state-ruled theology; indeed, these issues are referred to at various points of his films. Kiarostami thus deals not only with doctrines such as sin (suicide, fornication) but also the performance of rituals (visiting shrines) and the marginal and rural interpretations of faith. In highlighting the differences between orthodoxy and orthopraxy and his poetic approach to the mystical, Kiarostami not only draws from the Persian tradition of poetic discourse but simultaneously also presents an outlook which reaches across boundaries.

Abbas Kiarostami's Recent Work: An Overview

Caroline Renard, Université de Provence, Aix en Provence

For several years now, Abbas Kiarostami's work spreads over multiple mediums. When a filmmaker tends to poetry, photography or video installation, what does this scattering mean? What does it bring to his cinema?

Three issues could help us to identify this turning point in Abbas Kiarostami's work.

  1. In his films, Abbas Kiarostami shows a rare self-awareness. His work experiences its own limits and wonders about the end of art. This consciousness has arisen from an encounter between cinema and a very strong reality. Films are playing with self-conscience and approaching sometimes a post modernist aesthetic. Getting reflexive and conceptual, they have lightly touched the end of art. If Close up was the origin of this awareness, Taste of Cherry, thanks to its epilogue, steps over the symbolic frontier of the end of art represented as a black screen. Cinema wanders from this first issue
  2. The work is now headed for an apparent dissemination of film contents toward other mediums. Production seems to be split into three parts: the poetical aspect of film becomes the fact of poetry; photography extends the taste for aesthetic landscapes; the script and the reality are the remaining parts for films (ABC Africa, Ten). But those works, although independent, multiply passages through artistic fields. This is not new phenomenon: several shots in previous films evoked poems already.
  3. Finally, poetry, photography and digital technology seem to have helped cinema to grow apart from reflexive approach and to affirm their minimalism. Ten proposes a narrative system reduced to a minimum: limited equipment, disappearance of staging intervention, simplification of editing. The film materials take benefit of photography, video and poetry's simplicity.

The practice of several mediums brings to cinema a technique of non-awareness ready to welcome the unconscious part of work.

Trees of Life: The Photography of Abbas Kiarostami

Gilane Tawadros, Institute of International Visual Arts, London

Abbas Kiarostami's photographs are less well-known than his films and yet they provide a fascinating insight into the artistic vision of this celebrated Iranian filmmaker. This paper focuses on one particular series of photographs of trees that Kiarostami has been photographing consistently over a period of years. Spanning more than two decades and often photographing the same trees again and again, Kiarostami's photographic project is an integral part of Kiarostami's enduring preoccupation with nature and the natural world. This paper examines the artist's relationship to nature, seen through then prism of the tree photographs, and reflects on the dynamic between the natural and the man-made world, the existential and the material in Kiarostami's world-view.

'The Wind Will Carry Us': Renouncement as a Prior Experience to Learning to See

Phlippe Ragel, Université de Toulouse.

The Wind Will Carry Us which should be qualified as an 'in circle' film as opposed to a 'strait line' film, according to Jean-Luc Godard's 60s classification, is primarily a research work that this paper suggests should be observed through both sound and light. It is not a discourse on methodology, but a film that tries to both find itself and a way out, which progresses slowly, hesitantly, and in tune with empty moves that aims towards an objective even more hidden than the one overtly proclaimed by this television crew that seeks to shoot folkloric images about scarification rites performed in Iranian Kurdistan. A film whose variations, i.e. brisk mode changes that are dispersed along the story like information clues, nourish a project that is poetic in nature but which is also training for the eye. Because, as if it carries its own funeral, The Wind Will Carry Us seems to impose itself as a documentary about its own making, and the expression of its own renouncement, when it must, rather than telling a story, express a cinematographic idea such as: wait; open look; acute hearing; strength of space; random movement; and the registration of life that transcends death; without which, Regis Debray believes there can be no image.

Uncertain Reality: A Topos in Kiarostami's Poems and Films

Riccardo Zipoli, Univ Ca' Foscari di Venezia, Venice

The paper describes some aspects of the relations and interconnections between Kiarostami's poems and his films. In the first of three parts some introductory remarks are made on the importance and function of the image in Kiarostami's artistic activities. This initially involves an analysis of the way the images are described and organized in the poems of Hamrah ba bad. On the basis of this analysis, the similarities between the poems and the films are then explored in terms of their respective visual and sound aspects. The second part of the paper is devoted to a description of the 'semantic' analogies between the poems in Hamrah ba bad and the films of Kiarostami, especially with regard to the main characters (people, animals, plants, etc.), geographical and temporal contexts (the landscapes with their villages and roads, the sky with the sun and the moon, the night, etc.), and themes (loneliness, solidarity, incommunicability, etc.). The final part of the paper focuses on a specific theme characterizing both the poems and the films: the uncertainty of reality (with its ambiguities, doubts, duplicities, expectations, contrasts, misunderstandings, and so on). The specific handling of this theme in the poems in Hamrah ba bad is analysed, also by giving examples and commenting them: the results of the analysis reveal how Kiarostami's treatment of this theme is similar in his poems and films.

  

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