I was considering how expectations of form produce a kind of anxiety that stifles effort and work and I had written the following:
We have all wanted to see ourselves neatly folded in a box, framed, bound, like a nice little work of art. But by then, it’s too late.
A few hours later I’m watching Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry, about a man who wants to commit suicide and spends a day driving around trying to find the right person to help him do so. The movie ends with uncertainty, but the idea is that he didn’t do it. He picks up an old man who agrees to help him. The old man charmingly taunts him not to, telling him about his own troubles, how he was saved by the taste of a mulberry right before his own suicide attempt. At last he he tries to relax the suicidal man’s mind with a joke and a song. The man is silent. They settle on it.
Moments later the man is stopped in his truck, thinking to himself as a man and a woman ask him to take a pictures of them in front of a building. They thank him and after a pause he turns the car around. A man yells to ask “if he is in a hurry to die.” He returns to see his aide at the museum. The man is helping young students dissect quails. His job early the next morning is to shovel twenty heaps of dirt in the special hole that the suicidal man has dug out to drug himself and be buried in. Earlier the suicidal man seem indifferent to the pleas against killing himself, now he is awkward as the charming man acts cold and committed to his part of the agreement. He returns only to ask him to throw a few rocks at him before he starts to bury him, in case he is just sleeping.
In the images and sounds that follow, the film gives the audience a feel for what he is sensing, what is triggering his transformation. We see glimpses of the hours leading up to the decision. Some birds flying in the valley, children running around a soccer pitch, sunset, thunder, and as he gets himself into his rogue grave the sound of the rain and darkness. This must be the end. The screen is dark still for another few seconds. Yet eventually a sound emerges, soldiers marching, the film and its landscape returning, but differently. Greens and yellows and blues rather than the oranges, browns, and grays of the desert. The trick is that we see what he must be seeing, but that the different quality of the video complicates our perspective. Then the actor appears with his back to us. He is alive; for a moment we are relieved, proud in our knowing that we got it right. But then we see the cameraman, then the soundman and the crew, and finally Kiarostami himself issuing orders for the military extras to rest. For me there was a second kind of relief. Like the film’s tensions and its hold on the viewer were being lifted and replaced with what might be a joke, but still I couldn’t be certain. Was this an error on the projector (or in my case, in the downloaded version I have)? It feels slightly political, humanistic, and yet it feels just so, a simple gesture or a kind of signature or sign-off. But then again, I might be watching some of the extras to the DVD right after the film.
There is nothing to suggest the abruptness of the visual and tonal irregularity of this epilogue except for the fact that it happens. There is no direct exchange with the camera. Rather, the audience hovers in the uncertainty that K. had designated to them up until this point. The film is over. You’re still watching it, but it’s over. The director is here, the crew, the landscape, the actor, the extras. Like raising a curtain, but on something very mundane, ordinary, but still monumental. The unveiling comes across as a thank you, to the audience, for playing along, for helping. It feels like a homage to storytelling, the very ordinary and basic concept of sharing and offering sympathy as something of influence. The end seems to say: “This is storytelling, and these are the film’s personnel and their materials. We have made what you have just seen and are seeing. This has been our influence over you the viewer. Of course, there is something political about this. Yes. We are working not only within the guidelines of the cinema, but also of the Iranian censory board, and this film was produced to celebrate the ordinary work and extraordinary possibilities of storytelling.”