Taste of Cherry (1997)

A thought provoking and meditative film which acknowledges life’s challenges and yet emphatically talks of its richness and beauty

8/5/20234 min read

Homayoun Ershadi in 'Taste of Cherry'
Homayoun Ershadi in 'Taste of Cherry'

Iran, 1997, 99 minutes

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Cast: Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Safar Ali Moradi

Awards: Won Palme d’Or (Tied up with ‘The Eel’) at Cannes Film Festival,1997; Nominee Best Foreign Language Film, New York Film Critics Circle Award, 1998; Won Best Foreign Language Film at National Society of Film Critics (NSFC) Award, USA and Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC) Award, 1998;

The film starts with a strange quest- Quest by Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) to put earth (soil) over his grave when he is dead! Mr. Badii, in his car, is searching for a person, any person, who will assist him die peacefully. Why? We don’t know. The filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami doesn’t tell. A young soldier (Safar Ali Moradi), seeking a drop till his army barracks, is the first one to be approached. After a detailed enquiry, Mr. Badii takes him to the spot where he has already dug a place and reveals to him that he plans to lie in that grave and die. All the soldier has to do is come in the morning, check by calling him out and then if he doesn’t respond, throw some earth on his dead body and leave. What will the soldier get in return? Loads of money. But the soldier is afraid and runs away from that spot.

Mr. Badii starts his journey again and runs into a young seminarist. The seminarist tries to convince him that suicide is not allowed in their religion and he should not attempt suicide. Also, he can’t help him as he is perceived to be a man of religion. The third man, Mr. Bagheri (Abdolrahman Bagheri) is an elderly taxidermist working in the museum of natural history. He has a sick child who is suffering with anemia and he needs money for his child’s treatment. So he agrees to help but hopes in his heart that Mr. Badii doesn’t take the extreme step.

While driving Mr. Bagheri to his workplace, Mr. Bagheri keeps talking about goodness of life and narrates an incident when in 1960, just after his marriage, he himself wanted to commit suicide. So on day at dawn, he goes to a mulberry tree orchard and wanting to hang himself. He climbs the tree to tie the rope and his hand falls on soft and juicy mulberries. As he is relishing those, a group of children come running after school. On seeing him atop the tree, they ask him to shake it. He shakes the tree and lots of mulberries fall on ground. Children are happy and so is Mr. Bagheri. He returns home with handful of mulberries to his still sleeping wife. She also eats mulberries when she wakes up. Mr. Bagheri says, mulberries saved his life. But if Mr.Badii wants, he is ready to put earth on his dead body since he requires money.

After extracting promise from Mr. Bagheri, Mr. Badii returns at night to that secluded spot where he already has a grave dug out. He goes and lies down and soon with thunder and lightning, it starts raining. After a long blackout, we see video footage of soldiers running in the hills and a crew filming them. Among that film unit we see Mr. Badii too, inferring that he continues to live life.

Homayoun Ershadi as Mr. Badii and Abdolrahman Bagheri as Mr. Bagheri look convincing and deliver superb performances. ‘Taste of Cherry’ captivates the audience with its minimalist style, evoking emotions and introspection through Mr. Bagheri’s dialogues and understated performances. The barren landscapes of desert hills and long, contemplative shots become metaphors for the vastness, and sometimes loneliness, of human existence and the isolation of the soul.

About the director, Abbas Kiarostami

This prolific Iranian director was born at Tehran in June 1940. He had been involved in various roles like director, producer and screenwriter in over 40 films in his lifetime including shorts and documentaries. His first love was, however, painting, which he continued till he joined School of fine Arts at the University of Teheran.

Armed with degree in fine arts Kiarostami worked in advertising industry creating graphic designs, posters and commercials. He made over 150 commercials for Iranian TV in sixties. Later he started creating credit titles for the Iranian films.

In 1970, he helped set up an Institute for Intellectual development of Children and Young Adults in Tehran. There he made his first short film, 12 minutes in duration, titled ‘The Bread and Alley’, which was about a schoolboy’s tryst with a dog. Thereafter, he continued making shorts for the institute till 1977.

In 1977, he made his first feature film ‘The Report’, which depicted life of a tax collector accused of taking bribes. After his first feature too, he kept on making shorts and films bordering on short and feature length. His claim to fame, however, came in 1987 with film, ‘Where is my friend’s home’ which gave him international recognition. The touching film is about a schoolboy who accidently takes his friend’s notebook who has been scolded earlier and threatened with expulsion. He attempts to return the notebook but loses way to friend’s home and has to return his home back. He then completes both, his own and his friend’s homework to save him. Incidentally, this was the first Iranian film watched by this reviewer. The film garnered a lot of awards at various film festivals.

Later, he did lot of experiments in scriptwriting and filmmaking. For instance, his film ’Ten’ (2002) shows ten scenes with a female taxi driver and various passengers, as she drives around Tehran and his other film ’Five’ (2003), is a documentary with five 16 minute long takes.

His present film, ’Taste of Cherry’ attracted mixed reviews because of some unconventional features like open ending, lengthy shots and the fact that script doesn’t reveal why Mr. Badii wants to commit suicide. But, I think, director Abbas Kiarostami deliberately doesn’t reveal the reason because he wants to underline or highlight that life is beautiful and worth living, irrespective of what problems you are facing and not under any circumstances one should take the extreme step of committing suicide.