The Hills Are Alive - "The Wind Will Carry Us" Review
By Jeffrey M. Anderson Combustible Celluloid
Abbas Kiarostami's films have a knack for taking us away to a clearer, more vivid place, allowing us to breathe for what seems like the first time in years. He has done that once again, and better than ever before, with his newest film, "The Wind Will Carry Us." It joins his list of recent unalloyed masterpieces: "Close-Up" (1990), "And Life Goes On..." (1991), "Through the Olive Trees" (1994), "Taste of Cherry" (1998), and his screenplay for Jafar Panahi's "The White Balloon" (1995).
All of Kiarostami's films are about some kind of journey, or search, or yearning. That's the key to Kiarostami's success, I think, as who in the world cannot identify with such basic themes? "The Wind Will Carry Us" is yet more sophisticated because it deals with a yearning but not a journey. The journey is over by the beginning of the film as a filmmaker (also called an "engineer") named Behzad and his crew make their way to a remote village in Iran. We learn, slowly over the course of the film, that they are waiting for a 100-year-old woman to die so that they can document her funeral ceremony. But the old lady keeps hanging on and Behzad comes to know the little town while he waits.
Kiarostami has always been compared to the neo-realism of Vittorio De Sica and "The Bicycle Thief" (1949), but I think that Kiarostami is more profound. It's impossible to tell whether or not his films have been staged. As we follow Behzad and a young boy that he befriends as a guide, several elements appear in scenes with them, roosters, goats, a boy chasing a ball, a woman hanging laundry. Were those things there on purpose? Or is Kiarostami perceptive enough to use the shot when a Hollywood filmmaker would have called it "spoiled?" ("Get that rooster out of the shot!!!")
Kiarostami tries something new in "The Wind Will Carry Us." He keeps several characters completely offscreen, the old lady, Behzad's crew, a well-digger, and the well-digger's girlfriend, a sixteen-year-old girl who milks a cow for Behzad. In some cases, we hear their voices and can see their forms, but their faces and eyes are hidden to us. In some ways it's Kiarostami's joke on us, teasing us and daring us to make sense out of these unseen folks.
Another advancement that Kiarostami makes in "The Wind Will Carry Us" is his use of physical space. He's always been a master at it with the windy streets in "The Traveler" (1974) and "Where Is the Friend's Home?" (1987), or the empty spaces in "And Life Goes On" and "Taste of Cherry." Here the city he films in, built on a hillside, is a labyrinth straight out of a movie like "Batman" (1989) or "Brazil" (1985). We'll follow Behzad on a path that will wind around corners and suddenly end in a drop down to a neighbor's yard. The twisty space not only covers North, South, East, and West, but up and down as well. It's like the old "Chutes and Ladders" game.
One of the movie's best jokes is that Behzad's cell phone keeps ringing and he can't pick up a signal within the confines of the city, so he must continually drive up to higher ground, barking "hello? hello?" as he does. It's there that he meets our unseen well-digger. Later, after this has become a familiar ritual, the well-digger suffers a cave-in while Behzad is present. Behzad rounds up help and gets him out in time. As he rides to the hospital with the country doctor, the doctor explains his philosophy in life, to enjoy nature--to live in the here and now. This comes in direct conflict with Behzad's plan of waiting around for the old woman to die and not taking any action of his own.
Not everything in the movie is completely explained, which I find refreshing. It allows that the audience has a brain and can think about what's going on. Kiarostami said that the film is not about death, but about life at its most vivid--on the verge of death. Two of the movie's most striking images are of Behzad kicking a turtle onto its back and carrying a human bone (found in the well-digger's hole) around in his truck. Yet that final message, which comes out of nowhere, is clear enough. When Behzad leaves the town we know that he's changed. I felt changed too. I was buoyant as I walked home, taking life a little slower, living in the here and now. "The Wind Will Carry Us" is a great film, and possibly one of the best of this new decade.
Originally Published September 30, 2000
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