Iranian cinema in Brussels: Kiarostami at Bozar and Cinematek

The Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami created poetry with his camera. A superb fabulist, fascinated by the world of children, Kiarostami died of stomach cancer in Paris on July 4th, 2016, at the age of seventy-six. He left behind more than forty short and full feature films, plus several books of poetry.

From the 15th of January until the 17th of February, the Royal Cinematek of Belgium offers a tribute to the magician of Tehran in the form of conferences and screenings. Bozar Centre for Fine Arts is also hosting two events in January commemorating the work of the great Iranian master.

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On January 16th, the documentary: 76 minutes and 15 seconds, by Iranian director Seifollah Samadian was screened. The title refers to the seventy-six years and fifteen days of Kiarostami’s creative journey. On January 25th, his last full feature film, 24 Frames, will be screened and introduced by cinema critic Jean-Michel Frodon. The film shows a collection of photos taken by Kiarostami’s himself, with one of the main questions behind the movie being: What happened before and after each image?

His artistic life began as a graphic designer and illustrator. “As a young man he read a book about Van Gogh and thought, ‘I want to be like him,‘” said Talheh Daryanavard, film scholar at the IHECS (Institut des Hautes Etudes des Communications Sociales). “He wanted to break the rules. Around that time, he entered a drawing competition and won it. He simply outdid them all. That’s when he began to notice what he could do with his eye. Soon after he joined the Fine Arts School in Tehran.

Daryanavard offered a lecture at the Cinematek called, The Flavor of Cinema, where he went over Kiarostami’s early career and the realisation of his first films for the Kanun, the Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, founded in 1969 by Farah Diba, the Shah’s wife.

During the lecture, some of his earlier shorts were screened, including The Bread and Alley (1970), Breaktime (1972), as well as excerpts from the full feature films: The Experience (1973), The Traveler (1974), all of them within the framework of his responsibilities at Kanun. The shorts depict in detail the intricacies of childhood life, the mix of joy and torture that many experience at school, the fears and anxieties of peer pressure. In First Case, Second Case (1979), the author poses a double-edged question: Is it better to betray your classmates or show solidarity against the punishment of an angry teacher?

After the Islamic Revolution of 1979 many directors left Iran, including the talented Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rassoulof, who were able to find an outlet for their creativity elsewhere. “Kiarostami stayed and found a wealth of inspiration in his homeland,” said Daryanavard. “He remained forever curious about Iran. He discovered ways to express his preoccupations in plenty of his films. In a poetic way of course, but it’s there.

Some of the films shown during the cycle at Cinematek are: Through the Olive Trees, Close-Up, Taste of Cherry (Palme d’Or Award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival), Shirin, among others.

In September of 1993, Kiarostami met with Akira Kurosawa for a two and a half hour conversation that later became iconic. The Japanese master had been deeply moved by his interlocutor’s work. He’s known to have said, “When Satyajit Ray passed on, I was very depressed. But after seeing Kiarostami’s films, I thanked God for giving us just the right person to take his place.