By Russell Lawrence
Recently I was tasked with watching 1998 Palm d’Or recipient, A Taste of Cherry, and I found it to be a remarkable reflection on the spirit of man. The plot is so straightforward and yet so unique. Its subject matter is so morbid, yet so engaging. Abbas Kiarostami also masterfully captures the Iranian landscape, while telling the story of Mr. Badii.
The film centers around a man looking for someone to bury him under a cherry tree after he’s committed suicide. But what’s funny is that although the film is about a man trying to commit suicide it’s actually really uplifting. I found myself listening to all of the characters giving their reasons to be happy to be truly inspirational. Two scenes in particular impacted me the most, both different variations of a car ride in Mr. Badii’s truck. My favorite of the two was the one shot from an aerial perspective. As we hear one character berate Mr. Badii with questions (“Do you not want to see the sunset anymore?”) we are offered breathtaking tracking shots of Mr. Badii also following the man’s directions.
Still from A Taste of Cherry (1998)
Meanwhile, the scenery features lush trees along the road. The result is picturesque scenery contrasted over a stark, barren landscape. It’s as if the difference of opinion in the conversation is perfectly described by the driving landscapes. His friend sees the beauty around him and asks Mr. Badii if he does too, but then when he gives directions the car drives out of the lush trees and the frame only has old roads and dust. My second favorite variation of this kind of scene was when Mr. Badii is listening to the man who attempted to commit suicide himself. He describes his whole story, and how his family had problems that drove him to leave everything and go to a mulberry tree plantation to hang himself. When he couldn’t throw the rope over the tree branch, he decided to climb the tree. But as the mulberries were soft, he was tempted to eat one. Eventually the story ends with him enjoying his time at the mulberry plantation so much that he returns home to his family with mulberries. What’s so remarkable about this scene is we really see some hope develop in Mr. Badii’s reactions. He asks, “So you ate Mulberries and you were happy?” He doesn’t understand, and the man tells him no. It is all about changing your perspective. Unfortunately, Mr. Badii seems to lose interest after being told that in the form of a joke.
The writing of A Taste of Cherry is superb, and that story directly parallels his friend pleading Mr. Badii not to kill himself in the previously discussed scene. He says, “Don’t you want to savor the taste of cherries again?” But, my favorite part of the film is by far when Mr. Badii finds himself in the rock quarry and has an introspective moment.
a still from A Taste of Cherry (1998)
The whole film he’s looking for someone to bury him. It is fitting then to see impressive shots of his shadow being buried in falling rocks. This scene was the most powerful point in the movie for me, as I watched him be buried in dirt I understood how Mr. Badii felt. The dust surrounded him, he watched the rocks tumble down the hill, and all he did was sit there. The scene is almost peaceful despite all the noise, and is only interrupted by a worker repeatedly asking Mr. Badii to move his truck so they can continue digging there. I felt annoyed when he consistently berated Mr. Badii. I felt Mr. Badii’s lack of care. I understood why he didn’t answer the worker at all, and reluctantly left. Mr. Badii was at peace in that moment, and all at once inundated in his sadness.
The film was breathtaking, and I’m glad I got the chance to watch it. Here’s a video from the New York Times praising A Taste of Cherry.