This fall, as the days grow shorter, slow down time with the films of Abbas Kiarostami, on view all month at the Lightbox Film Center in a rare opportunity to see the revered Iranian director’s work on the big screen.
The series, part of a traveling retrospective by Janus Films, features selections from Kiarostami’s nearly 50-year career, the type of films that, watching, according to Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman, “you could feel it calming your appetite for sensation, slowing your attention span and maybe even your heartbeat. You could feel lured into a different state of being.”
It’s a quiet, meditative quality that translates to a kind of inaction in his characters, who, as Max Nelson puts it in Harper’s, "keep losing energy and getting stuck.” The reporter in Close-Up (1990) embarking on an interview for his “best story,” only to realize he’s forgotten his tape recorder. The middle-aged man in Taste of Cherry (1997) who hopes to convince someone to bury him after he commits suicide.
But don’t mistake this inaction for passivity, Nelson says: No, for his characters, it’s “an intimate kind of resistance, a way of defying the restrictions on their movements and minds,” evoking the strain of defiance proposed by artist Jenny Odell in her recent book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, and described by the poet Anne Boyer in her ode to “people who just didn’t. “Silence is as often conspiracy as it is consent,” Boyer says.
Kiarostami, who died in 2016, said himself, “I prefer the films that put their audience to sleep in the theater. Some films have made me doze off … but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks.”
And if you don’t get it, or even like it, at first, that might be part of the process.
“His works encourage gradual, postponed appreciation,” writes essayist and Kiarostami devotee Durga Chew-Bose. “Aha’s with a lag.”