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Documenting the Final Days: Waiting for Kiarostami

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By Ali Moosavi.

Abbas Kiarostami’s passing in 2016 deprived the lovers of the 7th art of his unique blend of documentary and fiction, real and imaginary and left a very large void in Iranian and world cinema. Waiting for Kiarostami is the second tribute to the late master made after his death. While Seifollah Samadian’s 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami was a collection of home-movie-type films shot by Samadian when accompanying Kiarostami on his photography outings and other trips, Waiting for Kiarostami is made in the same mold of docu-fiction favoured by the legendary director.

Hossein Khandan is an Iranian filmmaker residing in Chicago. In 2015 he was living in China, teaching film and photography at university. One day he received an email from an old acquaintance informing him that Kiarostami was planning to come to China and was looking for an actress to play a role in a film he was going to make. Khandan happened to know an Iranian medical student named Dorsa who was fluent in English, Persian, and Mandarin.

Waiting 02It took another eight months before Kiarostami was able to make the trip to China. However, Dorsa’s part was now written out of the story. In May 2016, Khandan met with Kiarostami in Hangzhou, where he was told that Kiarostami wanted him to play himself as a filmmaker making a documentary about Buddhism in China. Furthermore, Kiarostami asked him to actually shoot such documentary footage and that it would be used in the film.

Khandan completed his shooting and Kiarostami promised to return to China within six months to shoot the remainder of the movie. With everything apparently in place, Khandan went back to the United States. However, in July 2016 he received the terrible news of Kiarostami’s passing.

Khandan felt an urge to tell this story as a form of tribute to the late master. He consulted the famed Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who encouraged him to go ahead with it. He managed to get funding from an American friend.

Dorsa was naturally cast as herself and an expatriate Iranian actress, Ana Bayat as her mother. Then came a casting coup for Khandan. He managed to persuade Homayoun Ershadi (Mr. Badiee in Taste of Cherry) to play the father. Ershadi accepted but only after consulting the late director’s son.

So, what of the finished film? The story is fairly simple. Khandan plays himself; a filmmaker residing in China on a mission from Kiarostami to find a young actress for a film that he plans to make in China. The actress must be fluent in Persian, English, and Mandarin. Khandan happens to find Dorsa, who meets this requirement. He then needs to persuade Dorsa’s parents to allow her to act in the film.

Waiting 03Khandan has included two points of conflict in the film to maintain the viewer’s interest. One is the clash between Dorsa’s father and mother. Her father wants Dorsa to focus on her studies and is dead against her appearing in the film while the mother, who had at one-time aspirations to be an actress herself, is supportive of Dorsa’s desire to be in the film. The second point of conflict, which appears later, is when Dorsa is told that there is another actress being considered for the same role and she has competition. Khandan actually becomes part of the family in the process, not unlike the Sabzian character in Kiarostami’s Close-Up.

Ershadi’s presence helps to make the connection with Kiarostami that much more distinct. But at the same time, his acting is so conspicuously superior to the others that it slightly unbalances the film. Insertion of photos taken by Khandan from Kiarostami in China further amplifies the late director’s shadow over the film.

Waiting for Kiarostami is an engaging and affectionate tribute to the legendary filmmaker. In a number of Kiarostami’s films, namely Close-Up, Life and Nothing More, and Where is the Friend’s Home? the ending brings a sudden jolt of emotion to the viewer. Same thing happens here at the end of the film and further reminds us that the Iranian and world cinema has lost one of its true treasures.

Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine(Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).

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