Professor of philosophy Travis Anderson discussed the Iranian film Taste of Cherry in two lectures, one for the International Cinema and another for the Philosophy Lecture Series.
PROVO, Utah (Sep. 20, 2016)—When Taste of Cherry premiered in 1977, it received a mixed response from viewers and critics alike, eliciting both cheers and boos from its original audience at Cannes. Critics have remained deeply divided over the film, directed by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. In 2012 the British Film Institute named it one of the 10 best films ever made, while famed critic Roger Ebert placed it on his list of most hated films and called it a “lifeless drone.”
In lectures for the International Cinema and Philosophy Lecture Series, professor of philosophy Travis Anderson introduced and defended the film, encouraging students to enter the critical discussion. The film follows Mr. Badii, played by Homayoun Ershadi, as he drives around Tehran, Iran, looking for and interviewing people to bury him after him after he’s committed suicide.
“It’s a challenging film for most people to make sense of,” Anderson told the philosophy students, “partly because the director . . . likes to deal with philosophical subjects . . . and explore them in nonconventional ways.” Kiarostami’s films are famous for their obtuse plots and frequent lack of a conventional storyline. As Anderson explained, “Because the events in a Kiarostami film do not follow traditional patterns of Aristotelian storytelling, with clear character arcs and a climactic resolution to some neatly delimited conflict, it can appear as if nothing is happening at all. But the real ‘action’ in such a film is meant to take place in the mind of each viewer as he or she accompanies the protagonist on an inward journey of self-discovery and transformation.”
While speaking at the International Cinema, Anderson withheld his own interpretation of the film and invited the students to find their own. But, he warned, that would require watching the movie differently than you would most films.
“You really have to pay attention, not just to what the characters are saying, but to what you’re seeing and hearing in the background,” Anderson said. This would go against our natural instincts as “Hollywood” moviegoers, accustomed as we are to having meaning and message presented to us explicitly and primarily through the dialogue. Anderson thus directed his students to watch and listen carefully to what can be seen and overheard as Mr. Badii drives distractedly through the Iranian countryside and city streets, even though Mr. Badii himself seems to pay little attention to his surroundings.
Anderson assured his students that the higher level of observation would be worth their effort. “One of the reasons I like Kiarostami’s films is that they’re all meditations, not just on the subject matter but on the nature of art and film,” he said. “True art, by showing us life in all its complexity and mundane triviality, can be redemptive in a way that merely superficial and entertaining movies cannot.” He added, “When you come out of this film, you come out having learned something about life.”
—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)