Abbas Kiarostami's "Koker Trilogy" concluded with this intricate film-within-a-film. Info
Director Abbas Kiarostami continued to explore the intersection of cinema and reality in his playfully deconstructive 1994 masterpiece Through The Olive Trees. An audacious, intricately layered, and awe-inspiringly beautiful film about the making of his previous feature, And Life Goes On, the final installment of The Koker Trilogy (which has screened in its entirety at UW Cinematheque this fall) crystallizes the stylistic and thematic preoccupations that would come to define the inimitable Iranian auteur’s sensibility. As Kiarostami takes us behind the scenes to depict the filmmaking process itself, he contemplates not only the complex relationship between art and life, but also issues of authenticity, class conflict, and gender politics in rural Iranian society.
Through The Olive Trees opens with a shot of a prominent, stately actor, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, who announces directly to the camera that he “plays the director” in this film. He then proceeds to audition a large group of schoolgirls clad in black chadors and selects the third young actress he meets, a woman named Tahereh Ladanian (Tahereh Ladanian). She has been cast for the role of a new bride in a brief scene from the previous film in the Koker Trilogy, 1992's And Life Goes On. Complications immediately arise when the young man playing her husband cannot deliver his lines because the presence of a woman makes him stammer. The director at once replaces him with an unemployed, illiterate mason named Hossein (Hossein Rezai, who was a tea boy on the set of And Life Goes On and acted in the film after an actor bungled his lines). However, Tahereh obstinately refuses to acknowledge Hossein either on- or off-camera. Hossein later reveals to the director that he has repeatedly proposed to Tahereh, but her grandmother strongly disapproves of the match.
Kiarostami’s enigmatic film-within-a-film invites comparisons to puzzle-box movies like David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001), in that it challenges us to perpetually discover the truth of what we are seeing and demands active participation in the construction of its meaning. At the same time, Kiarostami’s humanistic outlook and artfully simple, expressive visual style imbue Through The Olive Trees with an ineffable purity and emotional resonance. The film’s power, indeed its beauty, derives from its essential ambiguity. In the end, Kiarostami leaves viewers with far more questions than answers, but the cumulative experience of The Koker Trilogy suggests a deeper, mystical truth, while transcending the boundaries that separate illusion from reality. —Jason Fuhrman