‘76 Minutes and 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami’: Venice Review

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
Joyfully moving and as modern in approach as Kiarostami himself.

A documentary tribute to the influential Iranian filmmaker by one of his closest collaborators.

The death of Iranian filmmaker, photographer and artist Abbas Kiarostami came as an unexpected blow to his many fans around the world and to the many filmmakers who have been deeply influenced by his quiet, low-budget work. The documentary 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami, compiled by photographer Seifollah Samadian, his friend and longtime collaborator, is both moving and apt in its intimate portrait of the director. Devoid of interviews, the film uses exclusive video footage spanning many phases in Kiarostami’s life and career to describe a multitalented artist and an exceptional man who joyfully embraced life. Anyone expecting psychological revelations via a traditional interview format may be disappointed, or pleasantly surprised to find how much can be gleaned from these apparently random scenes from his life and work. The Venice premiere is apparently just the first version of the material on hand, which can be expected to reappear in future edits at other major film festivals next year.

Despite the great haste with which the material was put together, the film reflects Kiarostami’s own simplicity and glancing, instinctive modernism — one more example of his influence on Iranian filmmaking. The title, reflecting its subject’s impish sense of synchronicity, refers both to the film’s length and to the fact that Kiarostami was 76 years and 15 days old when he died in Paris on July 4 from post-operative complications.

About as far as you can get from the Western myth of the artist as a neurotic loner doomed to unhappiness, Kiarostami springs to life as a smiling, laughing and giving man whose entire attention was focused on the world around him, the beauty of nature and the intense pleasure of artistic creation. “On a snowy morning/I run out/hatless and coatless/as happy as a child,” reads one of his brief poems. The first section of the film shows him digging his famous jeep out of a Tehran snowfall and taking off through the mountains with two Leica cameras, photographing dogs and trees and tracks through the snow. This fun is followed by days of painstaking work with his assistant making prints and technical decisions.

Later, there is a variation on the theme. Kiarostami stands a pack of Marlboros on end like a miniature forest while Samadian shoots their reflections on a white table. Next, he is printing huge rolls of photographed tree bark which assistants struggle to wrap around giant tubes and stand up like cigarettes for his installation “Trees Without Leaves.” This is followed by an outdoor workshop under real trees with film students (including many young women) studying minimalist filmmaking with him.

His easygoing approach to human relationships comes through in every scene. At one point, Kiarostami is driving through Iran with French actress Juliette Binoche, who starred in Certified Copy, and he stops to buy her a local newspaper with her picture on the front page. In another moment, he seems to be co-directing some soldiers with veteran Iranian filmmaker Massoud Kimiai, while Jafar Panahi films them and, of course, while Samadian is behind the camera filming Panahi. Everything is presented lightly, jocularly, without any artistic pretensions about reflexive cinema.

There are some longeurs, like a drawn-out sequence on the beach of Kiarostami filming an enormous flock of geese for his film Five. Most viewers will find that the original film was enough.

The most touching moments pop up naturally, like the sequence of Kiarostami on a plane reading Persian poetry out loud with keen delight. The final scene takes the viewer back to the fertile valley where the final shots of his 1994 Through the Olive Trees were filmed. Imitating his own movie, he runs through the fields calling out the name of the pic’s heroine, Tahereh, just as his lovesick hero did. It makes a mysteriously moving ending to this elliptical documentary.

Samadian, who did the cinematography on ABC Africa and who organizes Iran’s annual photography festival, stays off-camera for most of the film, but his own talent is apparent in many exquisite shots. Shooting through a rain-streaked windshield, he captures impressionist images, mirrors, shadows, melting ice, all giving a sense of passing time. Death is barely mentioned, but it doesn’t need to be.

Venue: Venice Film Festival
Production company: Tassvir Film Center 
Cast: Abbas Kiarostami, Juliette Binoche, Massoud Kimiai, Jafar Panahi, Ali Reza Raiesian, Tahereh Ladanian, Hamideh Razavi
Director-screenwriter-producer-director of photography: Seifollah Samadian
Executive producer: Sahand Samadian 
World sales: Iranian Independents  

Not rated, 76 minutes