24 May, 2010

The Duchess Recommends . . .

The Films of Abbas Kiarostami

Mr. Kiarostami

The Duchess can barely turn the radio dial without hearing chatter about the denouements of "Lost" and "24", neither of which the Duchess has ever seen (not even one episode). What the Duchess has seen, and recommends, are many of the films of Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, whose entry of "Certified Copy" into the festival at Cannes earned him recent recognition through the selection of its star, Juliette Binoche, as Best Actress. You won't hear of him on Ryan Seacrest, readers.

A still from "Certified Copy"

Mr. Kiarostami has been an active filmmaker, screenwriter, editor and artist since 1970 and has been involved in over forty films. He represents the creme de la creme of the Iranian New Wave, a group of Persian filmmakers whose cinema generally relies upon poetry and abstraction to comment subtly on philosophical and political topics. He won the Palme D'Or in 1997 for the suicide piece "A Taste of Cherry," and the Golden Lion of the Venice International Film Festival for the mesmerizing "The Wind Will Carry Us." He is a humanitarian and feminist filmmaker, and his cinema explores themes of autonomy, death, oppression and power.

A still from "The Wind Will Carry Us"

Mr. Kiarostami also wrote "The Circle", a film directed by Jafar Panahi, which was a powerfully feminist film that exposed the inequalities imposed upon women by the Iranian Islamist regime. Mr. Panahi was arrested earlier this year, along with his family, on allegations that he was making a film critical of the prevailing regime. His prison sentence was recently extended, prompting outcries from the international film community, including Ms. Binoche who (according to the New York Times) held up a sign bearing his name at the festival in Cannes.

The Duchess had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Kiarostami at the 2001 Doubletake Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, which premiered his film "ABC Africa." The prospect of traveling to Iran to witness firsthand the subject matter of his films held great promise in that pre-9/11 world. How beautiful the commitment and passion these artists have for illuminating something through film that many of us will never see or fully understand, and how heartbreaking that they -- most notably Mr. Panahi -- suffer for being messengers of truth.

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