Moments of truth

Richard Peña, Atom Egoyan, Fabien Constant, Dominik Graf and Anne-Katrin Titze remember Abbas Kiarostami.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Richard Peña on Abbas Kiarostami:"It was such a privilege to know him, and more of a pleasure. Simply one of the great artists of our time."
Richard Peña on Abbas Kiarostami:"It was such a privilege to know him, and more of a pleasure. Simply one of the great artists of our time." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The last time I spoke with Abbas Kiarostami, who died on Monday, July 4, 2016 in Paris, was when he presented Like Someone In Love, starring Tadashi Okuno and Rin Takanashi at the New York Film Festival in 2012. The director of Ten, Certified Copy, Through The Olive Trees and the Cannes Palme d’Or winning Taste of Cherry also co-wrote Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon and Crimson Gold.

At the press conference for Like Someone In Love, moderated by Richard Peña, I commented to him how very much Yasujiro Ozu is present as absence in his film - through the grandmother, the neighbour, the people talked about and unseen. There is a mother with her two children in Halloween costumes, who are almost run over by a car rolling out onto the street. A disaster almost occurred and the expression on the mother's face looks so real that I cannot believe it was staged. When I asked him to speak about the ratio of chance and direction, he responded "very true, there is an unquietness to the film … and there are glimpses of truth in the film. And now I'm going to answer your question."

Atom Egoyan on Abbas Kiarostami: "I'm devastated by the death of a true cinematic poet and great visual artist."
Atom Egoyan on Abbas Kiarostami: "I'm devastated by the death of a true cinematic poet and great visual artist." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Kiarostami explained that the set on the street I was referring to was only theirs for a very short time. The landlord gave them permission to film for the day, and they transformed it in the morning. So when the mother came back after picking up her children from school, she did not recognise the place. "The set was suddenly unfamiliar to her." And that is the expression we see on her face. He said: "this is what I want to watch - a moment of truth."

About 15 years ago, Abbas Kiarostami picked up Richard Peña at the airport in Tehran. "I took him to the nicest neighborhoods first," Kiarostami recounted at the press conference, in an attempt to give a worldly impression of his city and counter all the Western prejudices. When they arrived at his house, at the end of a wide cul-de-sac, "there were 50 camels on the road, something that had never happened before. Nor since." And while Kiarostami stared at the spectacle in total disbelief, there was Peña, calm and undisturbed, as if this happened to him all the time in New York. "I thought you brought the camels for me," quipped Richard.

Richard Peña, Fabien Constant, Dominik Graf and Atom Egoyan sent their remembrances:

"It was such a privilege to know him, and more of a pleasure. Simply one of the great artists of our time." - Richard Peña, Director Emeritus, New York Film Festival.

"About Kiarostami I would say that from Close Up to Taste Of Cherry or Certified Copy, I'll miss his shots inside cars, the way he used windows as screens to the world. Kiarostami was known to be a moviemaker of realness but he was also a great formalist. those frame inside the frame were also frames opened to the outside, the fear, the danger, the adventure, the world, the freedom.... A movie screen inside his own image for us, the audience, but also for the protagonists of his stories. A great formalist is gone." - Fabien Constant, director of Mademoiselle C.

"Kiarostami was a sheer wonder when he appeared internationally with "Khane-ye doust kodjast?“- „Wo ist das Haus meines Freundes?“. Like Eric Rohmer and of course like Ozu he condensed Topography with Emotion in a unique way. I get tears in my eyes when I think of the clearness and complexity at the same time in his films. What is happening? They are all dying much too young these days. Is there a war going on somewhere, which is killing all the best of the film business?" - Dominik Graf, director of Beloved Sisters.

Atom Egoyan sent this remembrance of Abbas Kiarostami: "I met Abbas several times at various festivals and we became friends. Most recently, we had dinner together in Toronto earlier this year, just before he found out about his diagnosis. I'm devastated by the death of a true cinematic poet and great visual artist. Abbas was in Toronto for an installation project on doors. Each beautifully photographed door offered a passage into somewhere new and unexpected. With his passing, I pray that this wonderful soul will find passage to peace. Certainly, his extraordinary body of work will provide his grateful viewers with a permanent door into his exquisite and probing spirit." - Atom Egoyan, director of Remember.

Kiarostami: Doors Without Keys, an exhibition of Abbas Kiarostami photographs was on display from November 21, 2015 through March 27, 2016 at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Like Someone in Love turned out to be his final film. Throughout the years, Abbas Kiarostami gave us many moments of truth.

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