On my grave sit with wine and musicians… 76 minutes and 15 seconds
The outpouring of grief from around the world that followed the death of Abbas Kiarostami earlier this year was unprecedented in my experience. The warmest of obituaries have been followed by tributes everywhere. Perhaps the major one was the dedication to Kiarostami of this year’s edition of the Venice Film Festival, where he had previously premiered a number of his films. One of these Venice tribute screenings was 76 minutes and 15 seconds, a documentary compiled from footage shot over 25 years by the renowned artist, photographer, cinematographer and documentarian Seifollah Samadian. It celebrates Kiarostami’s 76 years and 15 days on this earth.
Kiarostami’s life was dedicated to creation, and far beyond filmmaking; he wrote haiku, was a noted photographer and a visual artist. Samadian, as friend and collaborator, had documented many of their times together, and has assembled here a documentary that forms an intimate portrait covering many of Kiarostami’s endeavours. It starts in true Kiarostami style – Samadian filming two snow-covered black SUVs, reminding us of Ten. Someone painstakingly clears the heavy snow covering the wind screen of one, then drives off. As he turns his head, we see the characteristic dark glasses and realise that Kiarostami himself is at the wheel. And that he and Samadian are off on a photographic expedition, where Samadian manages to capture both the essence of Kiarostami the man and his aesthetics. In a largely black and white palette the familiar Kiarostami motifs emerge – black birds against snow; the black tar of the road against snow. Back in the darkroom we observe the meticulous work required to bring these photographs to life.
Another delightful episode continues the bird theme. Samadian, the cinematographer for Kiarostami’s experimental work, Five, documented the shooting of the ducks, also capturing a much younger Kiarostami and his former assistant Jafar Panahi. Once again we return behind the scenes,to the post-production, where Kiarostami’s hands-on approach is in evidence as they debate whether tapping rice or sand gives a better imitation of the sounds of the ducks! And it’s pure delight to see Kiarostami flapping his own shirt to imitate the sound of flapping duck wings!
Another Kiarostami trope, trees – both the famous lone tree and the groves from his films – finds a place here. In contrast to other episodes where his love of nature is apparent, he creates a witty photograph of a forest of cigarettes, and also prepares an installation based around tree trunks for display in Tehran’s Forum of the Artists. A larger installation of the same work, titled "Forest without Leaves", was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2005.
Finally Kiarostami’s love of poetry, a much noted feature of his filmmaking, comes to the fore as he selects works of famous poets from antiquity to the present for an anthology.
76 minutes and 15 seconds is a real celebration – with its joyous and previously unseen moments of Kiarostami in creative mode - suggesting that the line from Hafez that he reads at one point - On my grave sit with wine and musicians – might be a fitting epitaph to one of the greats of contemporary world cinema.
- Written by IFFA Co-Director Anne Démy-Geroe