City Paper is not for tourists
Abbas Kiarostami lives in Tehran. That’s something to consider when watching the impeccably Kiarostamian long shot that opens his latest U.S. release, The Wind Will Carry Us. Along a mountainous road twists a car containing three strangers, headed for Siah Dareh, a village in Iran’s remoteboth geographically and politicallyKurdish region. This is the sort of territory the writer-director likes to explore, but not because he feels comfortable there. He’s a stranger, too, just like the film directors in his modernist rural anti-idylls, And Life Goes On and Through the Olive Trees.
The protagonist of The Wind Will Carry Us may be a filmmaker also, but it’s impossible to say. The unnamed man (Behzad Dourani) is called Mr. Engineer by some of the locals, but he never identifies his mission. Telecommunications, archaeology, anthropology? All these possibilities are raised but never fully discussed. The Engineer takes a few pictures of local rituals and shows a strong interest in the fate of an old and ailing woman, but do these interests have anything to do with his official objective? It might be easier to say if we ever saw the men who make up his “crew,” but we don’t. The Engineer spends his time with Farzad, a local boy whose uncle has asked him to guide the outsiders, and a few women. Mr. Engineer also has several discussions with a man who’s digging a hole in the local graveyard, but the digger stays underground and is also never seen.
This is the film on which Bahman Ghobadi, whose A Time for Drunken Horses opened here recently, served as assistant director, and the two movies share techniques descended from Italian neorealism: documentary-style cinematography, the use of amateur actors, and an openness to the serendipitous moment, object, or vista. Whereas the dusty, expansive landscape is familiar from Kiarostami’s previous pastorals, the director has found an unexpected attraction in Siah Dareh itself. Built into a hillside, underpinned by caves, and connected by a mosaic of linked rooftops, the village offers an almost Escherlike maze of scenic possibilities.
Kiarostami takes his time enjoying the scenery, both natural and manmade, but that’s not the only reason the film has a pace that admirers might call deliberate. (The unsympathetic will probably find it merely tedious.) Like all the director’s recent films, The Wind Will Carry Us follows the preparations for an equivocal final event, which he prefers to leave open to interpretation. This is where Kiarostami parts with neorealism. His insistence on ambiguity suggests instead the allegorical gamesmanship of Kafka and Beckett.
If some of the recurring gagsnotably the Engineer’s frequent drives up the hill to receive cell-phone callssuggest Waiting for Godot’s slapstick existentialism, the film doesn’t simply transplant European irony to the Iranian boondocks. As Through the Olive Trees demonstrated, part of the director’s interest in waiting and repetition comes from the rhythm of filmmaking, and the use of the village’s goats as comic bystanders hardly seems forced. Kiarostami also addressessubtly, of coursesuch specifically Iranian topics as the role of women in Islamic society. When the Engineer goes to get some milk from the digger’s fiancée, the scene has a subtle erotic charge: He joins the womanglimpsed, but just barelyin a dark cave that serves as a stable, and attempts to dispel the awkwardness of the space’s intimacy by reciting the poem that provides the film’s title. Tellingly, the verse was written by the late Forough Farrokhzad, a feminist who was no heroine of the Islamic Revolution.
Eventually, things start to happen. The Engineer intervenesif only indirectlyin a local calamity, and in the process he meets a traveling doctor who advises him to appreciate the beauty of nature and live in the present. (This is pertinent, if perhaps futile, advice for an urbanite on hold in the country, waiting for something unknown and perhaps unknowable to happen.) The doctor plays the same role as the man encountered by the protagonist of Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry, who urges him to savor such simple things as the flavor of fruit.
Presumably, these characters express Kiarostami’s own point of view, yet the director clearly identifies with the somewhat comic figure of the Engineer. He’s not so directly autobiographical a figure as the director characters in And Life Goes On and Through the Olive Trees, both of which were based on actual experiences Kiarostami had had in making films, but he still represents the bemused and bewildered urban observer, scrutinizing a land he loves more than he understands.
Someone at the Shooting Gallery has a weakness for Japanese gangster farces that promise breakneck action. The distributor’s spring series included Adrenaline Drive, and now the fall one presents Non-Stop. Both films feature a naive protagonist, a relentless yakuza mobster, and a much less urgent pace than their titles suggest.
Hapless Yasuda (Tomoro Taguchi) recently lost both his girlfriend and his job; “You’re no good at living,” a co-worker tells him as he’s ejected from an institutional kitchen. Yasuda decides to stage a robbery, although it’s not clear if he needs money or just wants revenge on society. He acquires a gun, but just as he’s about to begin the holdup he realizes he needs a mask. He goes to a nearby convenience store, where he stuffs a mask in his pocket, only to be confronted by the cashier. Aizawa (Japanese rocker Diamond Yukai) has problems of his ownhe’s a junkie and frustrated rock musician who’s in debt to the yakuzaand he decides to take a stand about the pilfered mask. Soon Yasuda is racing through Tokyo’s streets and alleys (and the inevitable pachinko parlor) with Aizawa in pursuit. Then they run intoliterally, of courseTakeda (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a gangster who’s already connected to both of the other men’s dilemmas. He joins in the chase, which lasts all day and all of the night.
If a film about money, drugs, gangsters, and running through the streets of a major world capital sounds familiar, that’s because Non-Stop is Run Lola Run without the redemptive-love angle. Writer-director Sabu (aka Hiroyuki Tanaka) doesn’t riff on the vagaries of fate the way Lola director Tom Tykwer did, but he does interrupt the race with flashbacks that explain the three runners’ respective motivations. Whereas Tykwer cut to speculative capsule biographies of the characters Lola rushed by, Sabu shows the runners’ instantaneous reactions to some of the people they passnotably in a brief sequence where all three men in turn imagine themselves in bed with an attractive woman they glimpse as they hurry by. There’s also a gradually unfolding bit with a group of cops who will eventually intrude into the narrative, in which the nerdiest of the detectives eventually reveals a macho passion.
Japanese cinema has a reputation for contemplativeness, but there are plenty of Japanese comediesnot to mention action filmswith a lot more juice than either Adrenaline Drive or Non-Stop. The latter movie’s slower passages are apparently supposed to reflect psychological insights attained on the run, but these epiphanies seem meager, and the serenity they bring to the runners would be more striking if the rest of the movie were more frantic.
Interestingly, this is Sabu’s first film, made in 1996. That means it could have been the model for Run Lola RunShooting Gallery President Eamonn Bowles says it wasand also that the director’s subsequent work might be more accomplished. It’s unlikely, however, that the amiable but slight Non-Stop will create a demand for the U.S. release of Sabu’s other movies. CP