I react with sorrow to any sort of change that would not be consistent with the freedom of people.1
I write this four days after the 2016 American presidential election. On the day the KKK is holding a public celebration in support of our new president. The day a young college woman’s hijab was ripped from her head by a group of young white men. The day after Republican congressmen triumphantly announced they will dismantle the only source of health insurance for millions of hard-working and struggling human beings. Three days after stocks in privatised prison companies soared, spelling out even more misery and rejected possibilities for people of color – including children who are sent to adult facilities where they are abandoned to be sexually assaulted.
I feel so heavy-hearted.
Today, I turn to art not simply for therapy, but for mobilisation. All art, including cinema, can skew binaries of good and evil, it can reject the simplification of that which is deeply complicated, it can gesture to our collective survival – our collective accountability. In particular, art can disrupt the obfuscating, coercing, normalising narratives through which hierarchical power is reinforced.
Creativity is crucial to resistance. Its ability to reach unanticipated, unperceived and unimagined possibilities can be revolutionary.
I first saw Abbas Kiarostami’s Ta’m e guilass (Taste of Cherry, 1997) in a movie theatre with my father when I was 16. This was a time before the Internet and streaming, and the only way for us to see Iranian films was to drive the 45 minutes from the Californian town of Concord to the independent movie theatre near UC Berkeley. This was the same theatre in which we had previously come to see Jafar Panahi’s Badkonake sefid (The White Balloon, 1995) and Kiarostami’s own Nema-ye Nazdik (Close-Up, 1990). Produced in a nation where culture, art and politics are restricted by censorship, surveillance and a coercive narrative of good and evil, the abundantly patient silence in Taste of Cherry feels – even today – not only generative but spiritually subversive. As an Iranian-American, I found myself unsettled by this film’s ambiguity and contemplation, its rejection of swift and easy answers. I have come to feel this way about many of Kiarostami’s films.
I was born in Iran after the Revolution, and came to the U.S. with my parents when I was two. For both financial and political reasons, I could not return to Iran until I was 17. Despite the fact that I was only a toddler when we emigrated, my name was blacklisted along with my formerly Communist parents’ names, making a return to see family possibly dangerous. It wasn’t until my parents found a way to bribe someone to remove all three of our names that we were able to go back to visit. Iranian cinema has been, for me, a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the country where my family resides, the place where my culture and language originated, and a region so deeply laden with my parents’ (now-waning) nostalgia.
Kiarostami’s films were crucial to sustaining an animated relationship between Iran and diasporic Iranians. His films, like those of other internationally popular directors such as Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, ruptured the cultural, political, and economic isolationism enforced by the Islamic Republic. Kiarostami’s films – with their contemplation, philosophical dialogue and direct engagement with Iranians living in Iran – serve as a kind of subversive and implicit discourse about the various violences imposed by the state.
I have spent the past six months contemplating and writing about the parallels between Iranian and American state violence. Drawing these connections hasn’t been difficult. Today, instead, I find myself turning to such films as Dah (Ten, 2002) and Zire darakhatan zeyton (Through the Olive Trees, 1994) for their blend of architecture and improvisation. Today I turn to Kiarostami’s films to seek out the cracks of light, the possibilities of poetic resistance, and the rejection of conventionalism that empower the most vulnerable and exploited among us.
- Abbas Kiarostami, “Interview: Abbas Kiarostami by Akram Zaatari”, BOMB Magazine (1995), http://bombmagazine.org/article/1832/abbas-kiarostami ↩