Abbas Kiarostami, Acclaimed Iranian Director, Dies at 76

He wrote and directed dozens of films over a career spanning more than 40 years, including winning the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Abbas Kiarostami, 2007.
Eric Estrade, AFP

Abbas Kiarostami, one of the leading Iranian directors of the past few decades, died on Monday at the age of 76, the Iranian Student News Agency reported.

He wrote and directed dozens of films over a career spanning more than 40 years. "Taste of Cherry," which told the story of an Iranian man looking for someone to bury him after he commits suicide, won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival. Kiarostami also wrote and directed "Certified Copy," a 2010 film starring Juliette Binoche.

Three months ago, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He underwent various treatments, including at a hospital in Paris, but to no avail.

Kiarostami was born in Tehran in 1940. He originally studied art, switched to graphic design, then began directing advertisements. Only in the late 1960s did he get involved in movies, after he joined Kanoon, the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young adults. He served as director of Kanoon’s film department for about two decades, which led him to begin directing films himself.

He first became known to the world through three films known as the Koker trilogy (1987-1994), named after the town where they take place. Since then, he has directed dozens of films – documentaries and features, shorts and full-length movies.

His big breakthrough, however, came in 1997, when his film “Taste of Cherry” had its maiden screening at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d’Or. The movie is about a man who drives through the streets of Tehran in search of someone who will help him commit suicide. 

His first movie to be shown commercially in Israel was “Ten” (2002), a documentary-style film in which a young Iranian divorcee drives through the streets of Tehran and meets various types of people over the course of a day. 

Another Kiarostami film screened in Israel was “Certified Copy” (2011), whose star, Juliette Binoche, won the best actress award at the Cannes festival for her performance. The movie is about a meeting in Italy between a Frenchwoman who manages an art gallery and a British art investigator, at which the two discuss whether a good copy of an artwork could be worth the same as the original, or perhaps even more.

Kiarostami, whose films often included intellectual debates amid their visual poetry, lived his whole life in Iran. But for many years, the government wouldn’t allow his movies to be shown there, and he directed the last movies he shot in Iran without obtaining the government’s permission.

In a 2011 interview with Uri Klein in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz, he said he believed his films were banned in Iran not because they contained subversive messages, but because Iranian officials don’t understand them, and therefore feared that they contained subversive messages. Nevertheless, he added, the ban was a flawed strategy. 

“When you ban something, people want it more,” he explained.