Monday, December 14, 2009

Film Review: The Wind Will Carry Us

The Wind Will Carry Us (Directed by Abbas Kiarostami, 1999): There’s not a lot that can be said about a film like The Wind Will Carry Us, really, because there’s not a lot to it, quite frankly. That’s not a criticism, the film has a real beauty and sense of visual poetry, it’s just that the talking points are limited.

There’s an engineer and his team, who drive to a remote rural village in Iran. They don’t say why they’re going, they tell a small child who will act like their guide, that they’re looking for treasure. The engineer inquires about a local woman who is sick, his team sleeps most of the day, then go eat strawberries in the afternoon. Periodically, the engineer gets a call on his cellphone, but the reception in the village is terrible, and he has to get in his car and drive to higher ground, in order to be able to communicate. And this scenario is repeated over and over for the first hour or so. He interacts with the other villagers, talking with the kid, talking to a man digging a ditch, trying to procure milk, these interactions are puncuated by more phone calls where we only hear his end of the conversation, and it becomes eventually apparent that the woman’s health is crucial to their plans, but in what way, we’re not sure until a conversation fairly far into the film reveals that they are, in fact, waiting for the woman to die so they can film the village’s death ceremony.

But, the woman doesn’t die. She starts to get better. The engineer is distraught, the woman’s refusal to die keeps him and his team waiting for weeks. But, you can see a mixed reaction on his face. On one hand, he’s upset that he has nothing to do, on the other, you can’t get angry at someone for living. He asks a villager who has learned of his purpose for visiting if the man thinks that the engineer is a bad man. We can see that it bothers him, which is an answer to his question, itself.

I mentioned the film’s sense of visual poetry. It has that in spades. Whether it’s a long-shot of the engineer driving his truck up to the top of the highest hill, the little boy walking across a fallen tree he uses for a bridge, the engineer hitching a ride on the back of a motorcyle between wind-swept fields, or even something as simple as the engineer shaving with the film’s camera standing in for a mirror, there’s a real beauty in every shot. The Wind Will Carry Us also has the benefits of the village, itself, a dizzying array of alleys and twists and turns. Witness where the scene where the engineer, on a phone call, says he must go to higher ground to able to hear the person on the other end, then proceeds down a set of stairs, because, in order to get to a higher level, he must go down first, then around a corner, then back up a set of stairs to get there.

It’s certainly not a film for everyone. The conversations are rather matter of fact, and there’s not a lot of dialogue to sink your teeth into, and there’s a genuine lack of concern for narrative clarity (I’ll admit, right here, that I actually picked up and read the back of the box, after about forty minutes, to try and figure out what was going on, if I’d missed something in the dialogue to explain what exactly they were supposed to be doing). It’s slow, which will throw some people off immediately. It’s the kind of film that I enjoyed, but if someone said to me “I hated it”, I couldn’t really blame them, because, like I said, it’s definitely not something that’s going to have a universal appeal. But, it’s so beautiful to look at, that I think everyone should at least see it before forming an opinion.


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