2017 Program

The Department of Near Eastern Studies and the Iranian Graduate Students Association at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is pleased to present our second annual Iranian Film Festival. With the passing of one of Iran’s most iconic and internationally celebrated filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami, we have decided to dedicate this year’s festival to a retrospective of his work.

By following the oeuvre of a filmmaker whose career paralleled (and was instrumental in) the rise of Iranian cinema to international prominence after the 1979 revolution, guests will see Iran itself change over a forty-year span. Kiarostami’s work also allows us to view the fascinating transition of Iranian cinema from the model of “national” cinema envisioned by revolutionary leaders to “international” or “world” cinema, with later works filmed in Uganda, Italy, and Japan. Finally, the focus on a single filmmaker across the longue durée will allow audience members to watch Kiarostami, a quintessential auteur whose films have been called “cine-poems,” patiently explore his distinctive aesthetic and moral philosophy. To inform and enrich the viewing experience, each film will be given a brief introduction by a member of the U-M faculty and paired with a short (10 min. or less) clip that shows how the featured film speaks to themes, techniques, or ideas raised in Kiarostami’s other work.

All screenings are free and open to the public; they will take place on Sundays in the Rackham Amphitheatre at 4pm.

Sep. 17: Where is the Friend’s House (1987)

The first film that brought Kiarostami’s cinema to international attention, House develops many of the themes the director had been developing over the previous decade while at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as the Kanun): resilience, resourcefulness, and above all, friendship. Far more than a children’s morality tale, the film’s wry critique of “grown-up” society offers viewers of all ages much food for thought.

Sep. 24: Life and Nothing More (1992)

In 1990, northern Iran was devastated by an earthquake that left some 50,000 people dead. In this film, the second installment of what came to be known as the “Koker Trilogy,” named after the village where House had been filmed, Abbas Kiarostami films a fictional version of himself returning to the devastated village in search of the boys who starred in his prior work. While the film, like House, speaks to the preciousness and durability of life even in the most adversarial conditions, it develops further elements that came to be recognized as the hallmarks of Kiarostami’s style. The meta-reflexivity of a director filming a fictional self looking for the real actors of a fictional film affected by a real disaster questions the lines we draw between the “real” and “imaginary” and reveals the camera’s unique ability to transcend such distinctions, a theme that stands at the center of his film Close-Up. It is one of Kiarostami’s first films to extensively feature a moving car as his characters’ “stage,” a motif he would bring to perfection in Cherry and Ten some years later.

Oct. 1: Close-Up (1990)

Many critics consider this Kiarostami’s finest film, his own unique homage to the power and beauty of cinema. Filmed in an impromptu manner over the course of eighteen days, this film follows the real-life case of a poor man brought to court for passing himself off as the rising director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. By blending elements of documentary and scripted re-enactments of the events that led to the trial—with those involved playing themselves—Kiarostami gives his subjects a chance to speak on cinema and to show why acting—even acting yourself—can become a transformative experience.

Oct. 8: Taste of Cherry (1997)

By the late 90s, Kiarostami was universally hailed as one of the leading directors of his generation, an honor solidified by his award of the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his film Taste of Cherry. One of the most bleak yet beautiful films of his oeuvre, Cherry follows a quiet, middle-aged man as he drives through a construction project on the outskirts of Tehran, looking for something. What that thing is he does not say, not for a long while at any rate, and for the best impact we recommend you come in to see the film without reading any spoilers. While all the Kiarostami hallmarks are in full force in this film—the winding roads, the motif of the quest, the self-reflexivity—this may be one of his most focused and streamlined films, refusing to give up on its dogged search for a solution to a question that cannot be solved.

Oct. 15: Ten (2002)

By now, critics following Kiarostami’s cinema were noticing a pattern—very few women had appeared in his films. Kiarostami partially blamed this on the difficulty of filming women in realistic ways, given the censorship codes set in place after the 1979 revolution, but nonetheless he got busy addressing this lacuna in the early 2000s, first with Ten and then Shirin (2006). Ten is on the program because it is almost a remake of Cherry, with some key differences: a return to the city, after years of making films in rural Iran, and only women (and a young boy) as the film’s characters. It also utilized a new technology—the hand-held video camera—to film in a more discreet way, thereby avoiding the attention a larger production crew would have gathered. With Ten, we get to see Kiarostami

Oct. 29: Like Someone in Love (2012)

As the aughts passed by, and with his international reputation fully established, Kiarostami grew increasingly interested in moving outside Iran to film. His last two features, Certified Copy (2010) and Like Someone in Love, were filmed in Italy and Japan, respectively, where Kiarostami got to bring his approach to new environments, cultures, and topics that he could not have addressed the same way in Iran. Such is the case with Someone, a drama that begins with a prostitute being summoned to spend the evening with an elderly man. Though the plot seems to gesture towards a more conventional story—kindly old man befriends struggling girl and helps her sort out her life—the power imbalance implied by their first meeting can never be entirely neutralized; indeed, the hints, allusions, and implications expertly seeded into the script might make you finish the film wondering if these people are at all who you thought they were. The program will conclude with this final trompe-l’œil from the filmmaker whose realities are never quite what they seem.


The 2017 Iranian Film Festival is made possible through the generous support from the following departments, organizations, and institutions at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Thank you so much, we could not have done it without you!

  • Asian Languages and Cultures
  • Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies
  • Islamic Studies Program
  • Iranian Graduate Students’ Association
  • Language Resource Center
  • Near Eastern Studies
  • Screen Arts and Cultures
  • Program Schedule