Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry (Ta'm e guilass) was the first Iranian film I'd ever seen, or the first film from anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter, but I fell in love with it immediately. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and though I'm not extremely well versed in Iranian cinema, nothing else I've seen from that region has matched this one.
Truth is, I have a hard time recommending it to most people. I don't want to sound condescending, but I really think this one won't appeal to most people's tastes: it takes place in the desert, so the landscape is sparse and it doesn't lend itself to any particular visual flair. The film is largely shot within the confines of a car, and it's mostly a philosophical piece. It's not exactly the kind of thing you bring to your buddy's place for movie night. For the film to truly reach you, it's something for which your full attention will be required.
The basic premise is this: Mr. Badii has a plan that requires the assistance of a third party, but in order to carry out his plan, he needs to find someone willing to help. We first see him driving around sizing up the day workers along the side of the road, and at first, one would almost think he is cruising for sex. Finally, he picks up a young soldier, and after some small talk, he lays his proposition on the young man.
Mr. Badii's intent is to dig a hole in the earth far away from the city. He is going to the hole in the evening and he is going to attempt suicide, and he wants the third party to come in the morning. If the suicide attempt is successful, he wants the stranger to bury him. If it's not, he wants them to rescue him.
The young soldier balks at this idea, and so Mr. Badii continues his quest for someone to help him. Through his attempts, there are some very interesting discussions, not only about his plan specifically, but about life and death.
For those seeking easy answers, Taste of Cherry will be particularly frustrating, for there are few to be found. One of the most genius things about the film is that it never explains why he intends to kill himself. We don't know anything about his life other than what we learn in the car. But in doing so, it robs the viewer of judgment. You never learn if it's because of something through which we can relate or if it's over something trivial.
Particularly infuriating or intriguing, depending upon your feeling toward everything that proceeds it, is the ending. It's very cryptic to the point where some may throw their hands up in exasperation, and others may find it a cop out.
Yet, for me, I think it's partially what intrigues me. I think the director had a very specific intent on ending the film in the means he does, and I think it's just that I've yet to ascertain what that meaning is. I can only imagine too that working within the Iranian film industry, there are likely some censorship issues at play, so I think that's partially what fuels my speculation that there is some meaning behind it that perhaps a more astute viewer than I may pick up on. It's almost as if Kiarostami is challenging us to piece together what happened without coming out and saying it. (It's a little difficult to discuss a film's ending without revealing too many specifics).
So even though I've watched this film a handful of times, I just feel like I have an unfinished jigsaw puzzle waiting in the other room, and though I haven't touched it in ages, I have this nagging feeling when I think of the film that there is some unfinished business I need to figure out.