Abbas Kiarostami’s death this July, at the age of 76, was a moment of profound sorrow for the world’s film community. The affecting images of his public funeral – with the streets of Tehran teeming with mourners gathered around his coffin – were emblematic of the global outpouring of grief for an artist who was actively engaged in the cinema up to the very end. Few filmmakers have had the truly universal appeal of the Iranian. Those who love the cinema also love the work of Kiarostami. The relationship is almost axiomatic.
In the history of the cinema, there have been filmmakers whose work leaves its stamp on an entire decade. Griffith in the 1910s, Renoir in the 1930s, Hitchcock in the 1950s, Godard in the 1960s, Kiarostami in the 1990s. From 1987 to 1999, from Khaneh-ye Dust Kojast? (Where is the Friends House?) to Baad Mara Khahad Bord (The Wind Will Carry Us), Kiarostami made an uninterrupted series of feature films that redefined the very possibilities of the cinema. His international profile opened Iranian cinema to the world, bringing attention to the work of compatriots such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Amir Naderi and Jafar Panahi, and leading cinephiles to seek out the earlier shorts and documentaries he made for Kanun (the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults) from 1970 to the late 1980s. In the 21st century, Kiarostami’s work went in different directions: Dah (Ten, 2002) was one of the first films that showed the true potential of digital cinema, while works like Five (2004) and Shirin (2008) were radical experiments in the moving image, and numerous installation pieces made during this time broke down the boundaries between the cinema and the gallery.
Closer to home, Kiarostami is also one of the talismanic filmmakers for us here at Senses of Cinema. Senses was founded in 1999, with a stated mission of being “devoted to the serious and eclectic discussion of cinema” and “committed to discussing art, independent, experimental and third world cinemas.” It was therefore natural that Kiarostami, then widely recognised as occupying one of the summits of the art of cinema, would take pride of place for the journal in its early days. And so it was. His films were regularly an object of discussion during this period, and between 2000 and 2003, no less than three dossiers were dedicated to the director. This intense interest in Kiarostami, however, became somewhat less prominent in ensuing years, and it is perhaps with a dose of sheepish regret that it is only now, after his death, that we once again focus on his work.
Given the importance of Kiarostami to the history of Senses, it seems appropriate that we take a look back at our own critical responses to the filmmaker. To this end, an article from each of the three previous Kiarostami dossiers, from issues no. 9, 17 and 29, have been included here. We reprint David Sterritt’s in-depth interview with the filmmaker from 2000, “Taste of Kiarostami”, Jared Rapfogel’s 2001 analysis of Close-Up, “A Mirror Facing a Mirror”, and Rolando Caputo’s 2003 series of observations on Ten in “Five to Ten: Five Reflections on Abbas Kiarostami’s 10”.
In addition, our dossier includes new texts reflecting on the resonances of Kiarostami’s life and work for the contemporary world by Duke University professor Negar Mottahedeh (“Wind: Serendipity and Cinephilia”) and the New York-based artist Shabnam Piryaei (“Poetry and Subversion: Kiarostami’s Films for One Diasporic Iranian”). Quebec scholar and editor of Hors-Champ André Habib contributes a rumination on Kiarostami’s death and the nature of mourning in the digital era, which is accompanied by an image gallery containing select moments from across the filmmaker’s œuvre. Finally, we also reprint Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa’s 2002 Great Directors profile on Kiarostami, paired with a new article from Saeed-Vafa, “Drinking from the Mirage”, which complements her earlier piece by looking at the more recent work of the Iranian filmmaker.
Over the course of more than four decades, Abbas Kiarostami used multiple mediums to create images that addressed some of the central questions of the cinema, and challenged viewers around the world to think about the art form in new ways. His death means that no more of these images will be produced, but the act of analysing them, reflecting on their function, and taking inspiration from them to make new works of cinema will undoubtedly continue for a long time to come.