(director/writer/editor: Abbas Kiarostami; screenwriter: based on an idea by Mahmoud Ayedin; cinematographer: Mahmoud Kalari; music: Peyman Yazdanian; cast: Behzad Dourani (Engineer), The Inhabitants of the Village of Siah Dareh: Farzad Sohrabi, Shahpour Ghobadi, Masood Mansouri, Masoameh Salimi; Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Marin Karmitz/Abbas Kiarostami; New Yorker Films; 1999-Iran/Fr.)


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dazzling cinematic spectacle and an evocative metaphysical vision from one of the world’s great modern directors, the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami (“The Taste of Cherry“/”Through the Olive Trees“). The director has also come out with a recent book of haiku poems and is a noted landscape artist. The subtle, lyrical, and accessible masterpiece “The Wind Will Carry Us,” is the Kiarostami film I enjoyed the most and think it is his most precious. It won first-prize honors at Venice. Though this modest film follows the same vision as the master filmmaker’s previous films, there’s more to it than first seems apparent as its subject matter covers a lot of territory that ranges from worldly to spiritual issues to matters of life and death. As he usually does, Kiarostami casts a questioning alter ego protagonist, who in this film is a rather ambiguous and dour character neither viewed as a good or bad person but one who is curious about the things that confront him. He’s played by the only professional actor in the film, Behzad Dourani, known as the Engineer, who finds himself taken out of his daily routine and forced to soulfully search for his purpose in life in a rural traditional setting that goes against his urbane nature.

Kiarostami involves the viewer in this film as an essential part of the storytelling, as it is plotted without the usual need for a story to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Also, the storyline seems timeless though it takes place roughly over a period of two weeks. A film without a story is not what the public has been conditioned to expect from the cinema, which is the reason the director has maintained a faithful following for his inventiveness abroad but is not overwhelmingly popular in America like many other lesser talented foreign filmmakers. What the director has in mind by filming in such an unusual way, is for the viewer to have the opportunity to make the film resonate with their own hopes and add greater possibilities to it than even the filmmaker imagined. The filmmaker wants the viewer to intervene and complete his unfinished film in the way their experience and dreams and visions dictate it. The main character will take photos of the locals even over their objections, as the filmmaker wishes to point out that the modern world cannot be prevented from intruding when it comes into contact with the past and should not be faulted for doing so if they respect what they have seen. It’s a radical change from the passive way an audience has viewed films for the past hundred years, and it’s also a radical way in which the director wants his viewer to experience life in its fullness. It is hoped that the truth will not be handed to one on a silver platter, but instead must be ferreted out through observation and passion for bringing what might seem unreal into the reality of one’s life–as the filmmaker makes a statement about conscious and unconscious suffering being an unavoidable part of the human experience. This also includes the value of living a purposeful life not by rote but in a poetical way. There are not too many films that can pull off this self-discovery through exploration theme in quite the same hypnotic and hauntingly assured manner. The lesson presented here might be obvious to the educated in such things, but just as hard as it is to live a gainful life through observation and experience — to make an engrossing movie about that can only be done by an accomplished and truly visionary filmmaker, one such as Kiarostami.

The shocking thing to a Western audience might be that a film from such a demonized country as Iran can be more true and honest than ones in their own democratic countries where there is no censorship. That in itself should make you wonder about Hollywood and their inability to deliver the goods most of the time and about the 65 million or so mostly youthful residents of such a diversely populated country as Iran and how they can do it under their totalitarian rule. They seem to have a few great filmmakers who can deliver the real thing despite the country’s censorship and other obstacles, as they have learned by living without many freedoms how important it is to live life fully and appreciate even the smallest of things. That might be what many Americans have forgotten in their materialistic outlook on life and the urge they have to not think about critical things in their need to be entertained above all else, which is the way too many Americans view movies.

A film crew from Tehran has traveled 450 miles to a tiny, dusty, remote, farmland, mountain Kurdish village called Siah Dareh, for a secret assignment of filming the unique local ritual mourning ceremony surrounding the expected death of a 100-year-old woman from the village, Mrs Malek, who is not seen on the screen–as the women mourners supposedly will scar their faces in a ritual ceremony. The inhabitants are the real people of that village and not actors, and the village is not a scenic set but real. The film crew, invited there by one of the old lady’s sons, wishes to keep what they are doing unknown to the locals who resent intrusions from outsiders and feel any photos of them would invade their souls. The film crew therefore hides their reason for being there by claiming to be engineers, and they tell their earnest young elementary schoolboy guide, Farzad, who is the invalid’s grandson, that if anyone asks they came here treasure hunting. The audience only sees the film crew’s leader Behzad. After three days of asking about the sick old lady he, like the other crew members, becomes restless when the old lady doesn’t die but continues to cling to life despite being very weak from not eating. When she’s conscious, she is filled with pain and her memory is hazy. Farzad therefore becomes not only their guide, but becomes their main source for finding out how the old lady is getting on in their selfish deathbed watch.

There’s nothing to do in the village, as everyone is either working the farmland or the women are doing their household chores or the youngsters are attending school. The three-man film crew sleeps away the morning hours and comment that the strawberries are not as good here as they are in Tehran, which indicates they can’t wait to get back to the city. From time to time the lean, steel-rimmed glasses wearing Engineer, dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, gets called on his cell phone from his bosses and can’t hear them until he takes his jeep to a higher location. He does get one call from his relatives, and ironically has to miss the funeral of a family member to carry out his funeral assignment for a stranger. In these business calls he’s impatient with his immediate supervisor from Tehran and seems to be pleading with her to put on the big boss and give him more time to remain here. Something seems to have come over him, as he seems to be genuinely affected by what he’s witnessing and doesn’t want to leave just yet. All this seems comical in a dry and absurd way, and it also points out how rushed and tense the modern man living with so much technology is as compared with the simple and carefree life of those who choose not to question their life and are accepting of everything about the past that was handed down to them.

The Engineer interacting with the villagers makes up the bulk of this no action and seemingly uneventful story, or at least a simple story that is delightfully going nowhere but allowing the viewer to observe how people set in their traditional ways live without making it a sentimental experience or with a need to say something big about their life. It was just wonderful to catch glimpses of the rustling wind, the red dirt, goats being prodded down a narrow lane, isolated trees on the steep mountain that seem from the otherworld, and the majestic clear sky that fills the landscape along with the golden light from the sun and the shadows emanating from the splendidly exotic hidden village that was built by the ancients along the side of the mountain pueblo-style.

In the Engineer’s relationship with Farzad, he confronts the serious student with alternatives to his way of thinking. But, he can’t shake the youngster from thinking education means memorizing everything and not caring if he doesn’t understand what he absorbed. On the hilltop, by the town cemetery, where the Engineer must go to get a clear signal for his cell phone, the Engineer befriends an unseen ditch digger happily singing, who believes in his simple lifestyle and that by having no bosses and working alone he is better off than others and that with his pickax he can dig himself out of any situation. But when the ditch (or possibly his own grave) he is digging caves in and he’s trapped, it takes a miracle for his life to be spared. The Engineer chats with a grumpy lady tea shopkeeper dressed in the traditional black garb of the chador and tells her “I’ve never seen a woman serve tea before.” She ruefully reminds him that his mother served him tea at one time. There’s also the 16-year-old girlfriend of the ditch digger who milks a cow for him in the darkness of her cellar, and with whom he shares a favorite poem by Iran’s greatest feminist poet Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967)–known for her erotic and feminist poems. The poem is about the terror of desolation the poet feels in the night and some of it goes like this: ” — like a burning memory into my loving hands — lover’s hands! entrust your lips — your lips like a warm sense of being! — entrust! — your lips to the caresses — loving lips — lover’s lips! the wind will carry us with it.” From this poem the film gets its title and point of view. The ditch digger’s girlfriend remains in the dark (much like the characters in Plato’s cave) and refuses to let the aggressive visitor see her face. Yet when her mother received payment for the pitcher of milk, the daughter makes her give him back the money because he’s an honored guest of the village. The Engineer experiences the local hospitality further through his interactions with the woman who lets him stay in her house and who makes him breakfast and does his laundry, and has impressed him greatly because she has given birth to 9 children and has her tenth child the next day without any fanfare. He also gets a philosophy lesson from the local doctor on the value of life, as he’s told to live in the present “Observing nature is better than playing backgammon or doing nothing.” The doctor was the only character in the film who seemed too familiar and what he said didn’t have the freshness and power uttered by the other characters, even though what he said was more articulate and polished.

It is a slow-paced and serious film moving at its own leisure and not in a hurry to go anywhere. One can make out of it whatever one wishes and probably find something in it that no else has. On one level it shows a traditional people in as sympathetic light as possible who are stuck in the darkness of the past and it also shows a sophisticated outsider who realizes he could never live in such an old-fashioned village, but while here he can still learn something about himself by observing what he’s missing in his life experience. The film is much like a pilgrimage, where the experience is so meditation-like and inward that it is greatly diffused when an attempt is made to define what is learned. Everything observed is metaphorical, and therefore no two people should expect to see this film in the same light. Therein lies its beauty that should please those who love intelligent, provocative and original films, but it might cause others to be unsure of what they are seeing and not give this great lyrical film the chance it deserves to be experienced differently from the way the American movie-goer usually views a film.

The Wind Will Carry Us Poster

REVIEWED ON 11/6/2002 GRADE: A +