On a chaotic and congested highway toll interchange, an off-camera toll clerk listens impassively to a humanitarian public service radio broadcast from a Red Crescent spokesperson urging listeners to consider adoption of the many children who have been left orphaned as a result of the recent devastating earthquake in northern Iran. An unnamed, middle-aged film director (Farhad Kheradmand) stops at the tollbooth and inquires about the condition of the main road to Rudbar, having been turned back a day earlier at the intermediate town of Manjil due to the impassability of the route. Accompanied by his son Puya (Puya Pievar), the director is hoping to reach the village of Koker in search of the Ahmadpour brothers: two boys who had appeared in his film, Where is the Friend’s House? (a self-reference to Abbas Kiarostami’s earlier film). However, the director’s plans are soon derailed when a police officer explains that the road is only available for access by emergency and supply vehicles. Attempting to traverse the main road as far as he is able to (and allowed by the emergency authorities to travel on the road), he inevitably finds himself snarled in an interminable traffic juggernaut on the outskirts of Rostamabad. Spotting a convenient rural side road through the hills, he takes an impulsive detour through earthquake-ravaged communities and makeshift tent relief aid centers in search of an alternate route to the remote village and, in the process, encounters a series of aggrieved, but resilient earthquake survivors as they slowly rebuild their scarred lives after the incalculable tragedy.
The second film in the Pirandellically interwoven Earthquake Trilogy (along with Where is the Friend’s House? and Through the Olive Trees) that examines – and redefines – the relational perspective between reality and fiction, Life and Nothing More… is an understated, meditative, and celebratory portrait of perseverance, human dignity, and survival. Set amidst the recovery efforts of earthquake-torn northern Iran (note the indelible long shot of the director’s stopped car that reveals the deep crevices on the side of a hill), the film is a metaphoric journey through the process (and procession) of life and renewal: the baby in the forest; the villagers’ continued excavation of their homes (an allusive image of rising from the dust that also appears in a subsequent Kiarostami film, The Wind Will Carry Us); Puya’s innocent, yet pensive and profound rationalization on the life (and spiritually) affirming consequence of tragedy; the newly married couple (Tahereh and Hossein of Through the Olive Trees). The abstractly sublime, lyrical, and uplifting final sequence shows the once-rebuffed hitchhiker ironically aiding the director in extricating his automobile from the side of a hill after stalling during a steep ascent – a haunting and profoundly expressive image of humanity, compassion, and community that continues to exist and persevere against the natural desolation of an austerely beautiful, yet unforgiving and fractured landscape.
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