At the end of the 1990s, an international poll of influential critics and curators named Abbas Kiarostami that decade’s most important filmmaker—no mean feat for a self-taught cineaste whose earliest movies were shorts made for Iran’s Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. But those films display breathtaking originality in their fresh, free-wheeling approach to storytelling and in their upfront, witty use of cinematic form, in which Kiarostami plays with sound, image, dramatic structure, and point of view to draw attention to the films’ status as manipulative artifice.
Only at the end of the 1980s did Kiarostami begin to garner the international acclaim he deserved. His award-winning Khane-ye doust kodjast? (1987) (Where Is the Friend’s Home?) was the turning point, but it was Nema-ye Nazdik (1990) (Close Up) and Zendegi va digar hich (1991) that displayed the full sophistication and complexity of Kiarostami’s methods. Not only was Kiarostami taking events from real life and turning them into urgent, poetic, emotionally affecting fables, he was also offering reflections on the nature of the films he was making in particular and on the cinematic medium in general.
Digital technology enabled greater experimentation. Ten (2002) is a moving, relevant, and richly resonant look at the plight of women in Iran. It was shot wholly within the confines of a car, using two digital cameras fixed to the dashboard, and pointed at the driver and her passengers. Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003) was very experimental, consisting of five seemingly single-shot shorts filmed by the Caspian Sea. It is minimalist, metaphorical, and nearly abstract, but also witty, lyrical, and imbued—as is all of Kiarostami’s work—with a profound, contemplative love of life’s mysteries.