Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami, 1999)

Anyone who doesn’t get anything out of The Wind Will Carry Us isn’t trying hard enough. Kiarostami evokes the frustration inherent to Bresson in his insistence on keeping things off camera and relying on a realistic, almost ritualistic observance of life interspersed with fleeting moments of transcendence. The Wind Will Carry Us may even be more challenging than a typical Bresson film in how adamantly it insists on denying us crucial characters and even the story’s central emotional pivot, the one-hundred year-old woman who is expected to die. We are even denied any scene at nighttime, at least until the end, to lull us into the idle stasis of the central character, a telecommunications engineer from Tehran who has traveled to a mountainside Kurdish village seeking to film the mourning ritual following the woman’s death.

In being refused a look at the elderly woman, we almost become implicated in Bahzed’s and his film crew’s opportunistic attitude towards her approaching death. Kiarostmi almost insists that we view her unscrupulously as an abstraction, a number, a symbol, without offering any of the usual pathos. So we have to take initiative and search elsewhere, as in canvas-like shots of landscapes set to the words of a doctor’s on the wonders of life and nature, or in the distantly audible tears of the woman’s family signaling her passing, or in any number of transient moments of beauty and poetry scattered throughout. The many subtle instances in which Kiarostami makes us and his protagonist morally and emotionally invested in the death of this woman expound until the ending. After we have been stuck in two-weeks of sunny midday for the entire film, the moment Bahzed has been waiting for finally arrives and in the breathtaking glory of the early morning and the tragedy that has befallen all he can muster is a few pitiful snapshots.

As someone whose grandfather may not have long to live and who has been struggling with the inevitability of death, with the stereotyping of the elderly, and especially with the reverence and emotional response I feel I am obligated to have, there is something so unexpectedly, almost unattainably life-affirming in the Mrs. Malek’s grandson’s response to Bahzed’s questions about her, a casual “I hope she gets better.” Bahzed is taken aback by his simple and natural hopefulness, and all throughout the film he is coming to terms with these same questions and issues in regard to death, life and old age (he himself is missing a family funeral for the opportunity), as well as the morality and ethics of how he is coming to terms with them, but we never know exactly what he is feeling and he remains almost wholly ambiguous all throughout the film. Only the final gesture gives us a hint of where he stands by the film’s conclusion, one that results in an indescribable moment of cathartic poetry.

Of course the film is about so much more than this. It is about media and communication. One of the villagers tells Bahzed that the village is ideal for communication, which is visually connoted by its multiple pathways and zigzag layout. Though he works in the field of telecommunications, he humorously finds himself having to drive to a mountaintop to answer his phone, often finds himself making many verbal fumbles to various villagers, and even conceals his reason for his journey. The telephone wires and a man’s digging a hole in preparation for the erection of a radio tower are ever-noticeable details establishing the reaches of the media’s figurative empire. There is a further irony in that Bahzed the media engineer’s idleness in the face of the constant farm work of the young men of the village. That the story, as I have already noted, is almost exclusively told during daytime gives the village women ample screen time. The film ultimately amounts to a series of observations and depictions of antiquity and modernity as they apply to our changing way of life and our perceptions of life itself, both of which are attributable just much to the world as a whole as to Iran.

I feel like The Wind Will Carry Us reveals many of my own shortcomings, and that is due just as much to the emotional reaction I had to it as to the reaction I didn’t have and feel I should have. I will surely be revisiting this in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment