The Wind of Kiarostami’s Magic Blows Forever: by Berges Santok
Source: Janus Films
In my night, so brief, alas The wind is about to meet the leaves. My night so brief is filled with devastating anguish Hark! Do you hear the whisper of the shadows? This happiness feels foreign to me. I am accustomed to despair. Hark! Do you hear the whisper of the shadows? There, in the night, something is happening The moon is red and anxious. And, clinging to this roof That could collapse at any moment, The clouds, like a crowd of mourning women, Await the birth of the rain. One second, and then nothing. Behind this window, The night trembles And the earth stops spinning. Behind this window, a stranger Worries about me and you. You in your greenery, Lay your hands – those burning memories – On my loving hands. And entrust your lips, replete with life's warmth, To the touch of my loving lips The wind will carry us! The wind will carry us!
Why this film?
The above poem by the modernist Iranian poetess Forough Farrokhzad encapsulates the essence of the film, ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’. This film is poetry in motion, characteristically Kiarostami in style — apparently unfinished and puzzling in plot; deeply enriching and soulful in experience. If someone were to ask me what I gained from watching this film, I would say, it spoke to me about living. I repeat ‘living’ and not ‘existing’.
This essay is my attempt at appreciating the film. I’m inept yet at comprehending the film’s subtleties and nuances and reflecting upon the broader message and tropes that Kiarostami uses in this film. I believe that a single viewing cannot optimise my experience, but in my first watch itself, ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’ impressed me heavily, leaving me with no option but to express my appreciation for this gem of Iranian cinema, or rather world cinema.
What is this film about?
A TV crew from Tehran arrives in a remote Kurdish village of Siah Dareh to film an unusual funeral ceremony. The director of the film crew received news of an imminent death of an old woman in the village and is certain that he and his crew will be able to capture this specific slice of the rural culture for the urban folks’ infotainment. However, when the old woman shows signs of clinging to life, the crew get desperate and see no signs of a story therein. The crew leave the village without informing their director, Behzad. Frustrated and feeling optionless, Behzad too decides to abandon this story and leave. Just then, he learns about the old woman’s demise. He now has the story right before him and the necessary equipment to capture it. But Behzad loses his zeal for it. For, he seems to have learned a far more enriching lesson for life.
Now, that’s why I call this film puzzling. All through the film, we see Behzad awaiting the old lady’s death and then—when it happens — he doesn’t film it. To some, this film might seem perplexing and even boring, wondering what it is that Kiarostami wants to convey. I wondered about it too both while watching the film and thereafter, but I was too busy immersed in the beauty of countryside simplicity, interesting scene compositions and wise lines that I realised this film is top-notch.
Source: Janus Films
The first sequence: A few wide shots of a Land Rover driving through an-almost barren terrain interspersed with trees. Next, we see farmlands, and eventually a village. In this brief journey, we hear exuberant voices of Behzad and his crew as they drive down the narrow, curvy roads of the countryside. I believe, this assemblage of scenes conveys to the audience that the film is about a journey and knowing Kiarostami’s cinema, it would be easy to guess that the journey will be spiritual and philosophical in nature. The sequence ends with the crew meeting their first point of contact from the village — Farzad, a school-going kid. Surprisingly, Farzad is a relative of the person who tipped Behzad about the imminent death of the old woman. In a way, the young Farzad is aware of the crew’s intent and mission, but the crew urges him to keep his mouth zipped. If asked, Farzad must say that they are a bunch of engineers working on the telecommunications project for the village.
The village receives the crew with respect. Several times in the film, we see the villagers saying they are honoured to have the crew in the village. In the film, the villagers’ DNA is ingrained with culture and courtesy. Their sentences begin and end with cordiality and lack scorn and disrespect. These rural folks barring the children are spared of conventional education. Yet their souls are imbrued with kindness and respect for the other, compelling us to reflect that the essence of education is not only to develop technology and progress materialistically but also build benevolence.
Behzad and his crew are certain the old woman will die within a week. So, while they await this event, we see Behzad interacting with the rural folk. And, it is in these interactions that the beauty of this film comes to play.
Behzad and Farzad:
Farzad is Behzad’s and the audience’s first guide to the rural life in Siah Dareh. An innocent chap and a kind soul, he becomes the collective eye-opener of the narrative. Farzad is the only person through which Behzad learns abouts the old woman’s condition on a daily basis, whether she is climbing her way up to the heaven or has her feet still entrenched on the earth. Essentially, Farzad’s inclusion in the film presents the rural ongoings and the old woman’s health literally in a child-like authenticity and sincerity. Over time, Farzad and Behzad strike a cordial chemistry so much so that Behzad also helps Farzad with an answer to a question in the exam. Here’s their conversation.
Farzad: The fourth question.
Behzad: You don’t know the answer?
Farzad: Because I don’t.
Behzad: What was it?
Farzad: What happens to the good and the evil on Judgment Day?
Behzad: That's obvious: the good go to Hell, and the evil go to Heaven. Is that right?
Behzad: No. the good go to Heaven, and the evil go to Hell. Hurry in and write that, then come back.
Notice the truth in Behzad’s first response and then smile to yourself!
Behzad and the café owner:
This interaction is brief. It does nothing to move the story forward. Unlike Farzad, the café owner does negligible to help Behzad with regard to the old woman’s health. But in a single scene, she spills the beans about the prevalent attitude towards women. The community is reeked in patriarchy. So, any appreciation for their daily effort is as absent as pollution in the air of the village. At first it is amusing to know that the village folk refer to copulation as the third job. But instantaneously it hits your gut to know that the act of love is considered a job. Essentially, the café owner makes a comment on the deep-rooted patriarchy existing in the community, something which perhaps might require divine intervention to be abolished.
Behzad and his pregnant neighbour:
The reason I chose to use the word ‘pregnant’ is because she features in quite a few scenes. She is the only neighbour Behzad has. But her scene that will stay the most with the viewer, perhaps, is where she says that she delivered her tenth baby the day before and is back to domestic duties, as if pain and discomfort are something that she ceases to experience. A telling comment on the gruelling life in the countryside, reflecting the lives of millions of women in India as well, therefore it resonates well with us and becomes universal in the process.
Behzad and the village teacher:
The village teacher is aware of Behzad’s true reason for visiting the village. Yet he exudes calm and composure and even shares a relevant slice of his life. He serves as a model of calm and knowledge in the story. From the point of view of the narrative, he is the only character who helps Behzad get an inkling of the ritual.
Behzad and the ditch digger:
Behzad’s first source of wisdom in the village and frustration alike is this ditch digger. He represents diligence and speaks enough wise lines for Behzad to introspect. Here’s a piece of one of their conversations.
Behzad: But it wasn't Farhad who dug Behistun.
Digger: I know.
Behzad: Who then?
Digger: It was love. The love of Shirin.
Behzad: Bravo. You must know love.
Digger: A man without love cannot live.
For the uninitiated, Shirin and Farhad were Iran’s Romeo and Juliet. You could read about their story briefly by clicking the Wikipedia link relating to Mount Behistun. Sticking to the film, most importantly, had it not been for this ditch digger, Behzad wouldn’t get to meet the doctor who carves the essence of the film.
Behzad and the doctor:
Though appearing briefly, the doctor is similar to the character working in the museum in the film Taste of Cherry, who gives out a universal message for life. Here too, his lines in a way present to the audience and Behzad concomitantly on what it means to live a life on earth. One day we will die. So, we must enjoy life before the wind of death rips the leaves (mortals in this case) from the branches of the tree (life in this case) where we thought we have a lot of time to stay. So, live in the present and appreciate the present. Watch this clip from the film:
Now, one could question me about the correlation of Behzad’s new-found realisations and the ending of the film wherein he chooses not to capture the ritual. Why didn’t he document it? The answer to this question, I don’t know yet. Perhaps, he realised the futility of it or he gained some deep insight that prevented him from fulfilling his mission. I tried searching for a response to this question online but failed to find one. However, I quickly drew an analogy to satiate myself from this question. I remembered an old saying that a rich and spoilt child stopped complaining about his new shoes when he spotted a child with an imputed leg. Additionally, I also thought of Prince Siddharth refusing to continue with his royal existence when he spots grief and poverty in the real world.
The film is about anguished characters — Behzad, the old woman, the villagers in common, Behzad’s boss and his crew who desire a turn of events. Everyone is hopeful of a desirable outcome and end up spending their time chasing this outcome without actually living their life. But not everything is in their hands. In the hope of a desirable outcome, they end up missing on their present situation, which in itself is an act of forsaking a divine gift. The daily happiness feels foreign to them. They await the birth of rain but they are accustomed to despair. All they have to do is regale in the warmth and love of life. They must remember that our time on earth is limited. One day, The wind will carry us!
Berges Santok is a cinephile.