On 4th July Abbas Kiarostami died, aged 76. He was Iran’s most famous film director.
There were many tributes. Martin Scorsese said he was ‘deeply shocked and saddened’; President Rouhani said Kiarostami’s work was an ‘everlasting achievement.’ For the funeral on the 10th of July thousands lined the streets of Tehran to say farewell.
Abbas Kiarostami’s life and unconventional films reflect an important truth about Iranian culture: not all Iranians view life through stark black and white religious lines. Indeed there is a strong strain in the Iranian culture that rather sees life as being many layered, nuanced, enigmatic. This might be one reason why Iranians find the Jesus they meet in the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John -multi-layered and rich as it is in poetic language- so attractive.
Kiarostami made over forty films and won numerous awards. His films were alternative. Nobody went to a Kiarostami film expecting to see an action packed high wire drama with complicated sub-plots. In a Kiarostami film the plot was minimal, the boundary between fiction and reality blurred, the pace usually slow, the cinematography meditative.
On a par with the world’s greatest directors like Spielberg or Scorsese it is impossible to measure Kiarostami’s influence. It is good though for Christians to remember to pray for Iran’s artists who play such an important role in shaping culture. Thankfully film directors in Iran have generally enriched their culture.
Kiarostami’s passing brings one other reminder for Christians who want to understand Iran: go and enjoy one of his films.