A Taste of Cherry, 1997

An impassive, middle-aged man drives through the busy urban traffic of the city, and is approached by several day laborers for hire. He has a specific task in mind, but drives away without saying a word. His name is Mr. Badii (Homayon Ershadi), and he is seeking an assistant for his planned suicide. He stops to ask strangers about their financial state, surreptitiously interviewing them for the reprehensible job, but leaves without declaring his intentions. He offers a ride to a young soldier (Safar Ali Moradi) on his way back to the barracks. An overhead crane shot follows their vehicle weaving through the narrow, unpaved roads as he drives the soldier to a remote basin where he has dug his burial plot at the foot of a tree. He sees a filial bond with the soft-spoken young man, having himself served in the military, and Mr. Badii reveals his plan: the next day, he asks that the soldier call to him twice. If he responds, the soldier will save him (and literally help him out of the hole that he has dug for himself). If he does not answer, then the soldier will throw twenty spadefuls of earth into the hole and bury him. The young man is horrified by his plan, and runs away. Mr. Badii then begins to follow an earth-moving vehicle and ends up at a closed cement factory occupied by a security guard (Ahmad Ansari) and a seminarist (Hossein Noori) on holiday. He attempts to recruit the religious man by appealing to his compassion, but to no avail. Instead, the gentle seminarist offers him a receptive ear and teachings from the Koran. Disappointed, he leaves the factory and comes upon a construction site, stopping to rest. Note the juxtaposition of Mr. Badii’s shadow against the pouring soil. Eventually, he offers a ride to a talkative old man named Mr. Bagheri (Abdolhossein Bagheri) who works at the museum of natural history. Coincidentally, years earlier, Mr. Bagheri had attempted to commit suicide, but was inspirited by the presence of mulberries under his feet. He disapproves of Mr. Badii’s plan, but his son’s illness compels him to accept the regrettable assignment.

Abbas Kiarostami creates a visually austere and serenely contemplative examination of life in A Taste of Cherry: the unchanging, barren scenery outside the car window; the desolate, winding roads leading to the burial plot; the suffocating dust of the construction site. The barren, almost monochromatic landscape serves as a metaphor for the isolation of the soul. In essence, A Taste of Cherry is not about a man’s search for death, but his search for a reason for living. By rejecting the laborers (who are undoubtedly qualified to bury him) in favor of his passengers, he is seeking empathy and connection. In the end, a chromatic shift transforms the empty landscape into a lush countryside. Perhaps, Mr. Badii, like Mr. Bagheri before him, has changed his own perspective.

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