Abbas Kiarostami helped me mend a fragmented personhood, and reconnect with a culture I thought I was no longer a part of.
I watched my first film of his, Nema-ye Nazdik (Close Up), when I was 15. Unaware of the huge impact Iranians have made on cinema, I was surprised that an Iranian filmmaker would be so renowned. The beginning of Nema-ye Nazdik follows the occupants of a taxi, with it shots introducing the streets of Tehran. As a Tehrooni, these streets were familiar. I recognized these streets and homes from a place beyond my memories. From those first few moments of the film, I became aware that these same streets and people appear in my subconscious every single night when I slept. I have been dreaming of Iran all along.
By the end of the film I was bawling. What about this work had conjured these feelings? The poetic realism? Maybe it was the beauty in Hussein Sabzian’s words. Maybe it was the iconic prolonged shot of the can rolling down the hill that especially resonated with me. Or maybe my tears and heavy heart were longing for a world that I repressed and had unknowingly missed so much.
As I’ve grown older, Iranian art such as the works of Sassan Bakhtiari, the work of the Tehran MOCA, the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad and films of Jafar Panahi have helped ground and cultivate my Iranian identity and personhood. Yet before experiencing Kiarostami’s works, I felt as though this was not an identity that belonged to me; that as a child of the diaspora, I was not allowed to be Persian. For a long time, I felt as though the diaspora had split me in half and that neither half was truly mine. I was not Canadian enough, and I was not Iranian enough. This is the reality for all immigrants and children of diaspora. It is art that can help heal–in this case Kiarostami’s art–this internal division.
His truly raw and soul-stirring films saved me and undoubtedly many others. The poetic realism in Kiarostami’s works freed me from the barricade I had built for myself, one which prevented me from connecting with my past, people and culture. The narratives conjured a nostalgia that fueled my need for a connection, and most importantly, validated my existence. He’s not just a world renowned filmmaker, but an artist that enabled my own art and identity through his masterpieces unlike any other art I had come across in that time. His vivid tales and inherently political work inspires me as an activist, as an artist, and as an Iranian. Kiarostami was able to build a bridge between myself and a world I thought was no longer mine. And I will be forever grateful for his impact.