Homayoun Ershadi in 1997's "Taste of Cherry."

Taste of Cherry 
September 27, 2021

DIRECTED BY

Abbas Kiarostami

STARRING

Homayoun Ershadi
Abdolrahman Bagheri
Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari
Safar Ali Moradi

 

RATED

R

RELEASED IN

1997

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 35 Mins.

A

bbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997) is premised around a simple and complicated request. A man we only know as Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) has decided that he’s going to kill himself. Wanting to essentially vanish without a trace, he aimlessly drives the roads of Tehran attempting to recruit someone to bury his body when the time comes. Badii doesn’t think he’s asking for anything

unreasonable. He’ll pay well; he has already dug the hole in which he will lay after downing a bottle of sleeping pills. All his temporary employee will have to do is toss a few mounds of dirt on him; there is almost no way they will be implicated in his death. 

 

Taste of Cherry is a dry, sauntering movie. Founded on the slippery moral quandary of whether personal autonomy should have an exception in assisted suicide, its meditative, reflective quality is enlarged by Kiarostami’s circuitous and rather hypnotic style: long takes inhaling the parched Iranian landscape, emphasizing Badii’s everymanness; a narrative structure that circularly involves Badii picking up men in need of rides, attempting gradually to persuade them to do the difficult job, and taking in what amounts to their philosophies on suicide. (The centerpiece of Taste of Cherry just might be Badii’s exchange with a professor transporting a trove of quails to his university: the professor had himself once tried suicide by hanging himself on a mulberry tree; that he went home not with a rope but an armful of berries and a grin is of a significance he wants to make clear to Badii.) The movie is an engaging and genuinely curious rumination given more emotional heft because of Ershadi’s understatedly pained performance — his eyes speak louder than almost anything he says — and Kiarostami’s sympathetic eye.

 

What little critique has been lodged at the near-universally acclaimed Taste of Cherry — most prominently by Roger Ebert, who took issue in particular with the movie being “boring” (which isn’t unfair), among other things — mostly has had to do with Badii’s own inscrutability: we don’t know anything about him except that he desires death. It is true that this choice, by Kiarostami (who also wrote the film), impedes some of our ability to fundamentally connect with the character. But I also think revealing too much about Badii is a bit at odds with the movie’s moral conundrum, because, ultimately, knowing more about him can subconsciously lend or take away from a perceived validity of Badii’s pain. The jarring meta finale may seem playful — from a pessimistic perspective even a copout — but I think it’s wise: a testament to how movies can’t always provide neat answers (and aren’t obligated to, in any case) but can nonetheless enrich our way of thinking. B+