Two of my favorite movie directors passed in the last few days, both septuagenarian freaks of nature.
Kiarostami and Cimino.
I feel disheartened not only because they were great craftsmen and visionaries, but also because I am of the age when I too could blink out in a heartbeat (or lack thereof).
Here is a short study of Kiarostami I published in Alt-Everything:
Kiarostami at 1:40:33
Frames similar to this one throughout Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) create a postcard motif within the film. The Iranian director returns to the locale in this frame again and again as his character struggles with the persistence of an old woman’s refusal to die according to a convenient schedule.
Kiarostami uses many medium shots with a motionless camera throughout the movie, but he harkens back to this veranda throughout the film. At 1:40:33 the shot lingers on the protagonist as he bites into a strawberry. This medium-shot frame is a frontal view of the veranda and the entries to the rooms that house the protagonist and his filmmaking crew. Some wonderful symmetrical work fills the frame beginning with the wooden-grated railing which dominates the foreground while angling slightly downward towards the left of the frame. Hand-wrought and angular natural wood shaped into differing gauges and lengths, the railing is primitive, another relic in a village that thrives on tradition and old customs.
Two potted, flowered plants with beautiful green plumage are attached to the railing; indeed, green is the dominate color within the frame, as even the doors to the two rooms, and the window frame at the left have green shading, contrasting with the light, airy feel of the veranda and the ecru tone of the building and rail. The red strawberries rest in a green bowl. The bowl is the approximate hue of the plants.
The protagonist, holding the colorful bowl, leans slightly against a pole off-centered right from mid-frame. The pole is a structural element of the railing, probably attached to the house’s roof and creates stability for the veranda in the same manner in which it props up the protagonist as he bites the strawberry, seemingly lost in thought, or perhaps confusion.
A crying baby from the opposite veranda and chirping birds are all the viewer hears in this contemplative moment. We have learned earlier that the protagonist’s co-workers bought the strawberries, but they are nowhere to be found. It is not clear what has happened to them, but the point of the frame is to demonstrate that the protagonist finds succor in the berries; he has bickered for days with his impatient co-workers, who want to get the job done and head back to Tehran. Perhaps they found a ride out of the village for the 450 mile return trip to the capital?
Several other elements within the composition are striking. To the left, hanging from a clothing line and at mid-depth within the frame, an ultra-white towel complements the white shirt the protagonist is wearing on this day (his other favorite shirt, not coincidentally, is a checked-green one that in other scenes enhances the veranda’s green motif).
Other dashes of whiteness give the frame a controlled pattern; on the wall behind the towel, a small white item, which appears to be a thermostat, creates a horizontal rectangle that contrasts with the larger, vertical rectangular towel. Together within the frame the two items create closely related forms that are then echoed in other patterns throughout the frame. The partially open window to the left has two elements; one side is open, the other closed.
The closed portion creates yet another vertical and rectangular form, while the closed portion holds three panes of glass that create vertical but smaller forms. On the exterior wall at the frame’s left, which juts out from the background wall to form an L configuration, a greenish tapestry is tacked to the wall; again it is in the form of a rectangle. Below that, a large ceramic vase is green, and its roundness contrasts with the rectangular theme of the frame.
In this particular frame the background is dominated by the doors to the filmmakers’ rooms. One is open, creating a darkened rectangular shape, yet it is bright enough to reveal a picture of a young person on the wall inside the room. This has the effect of placing a smaller rectangular form within the larger rectangular shape of the door’s arch. The picture also has a whitish background, which addresses the dual color theme of white/green within the frame.
The other door, partially ajar, has two window panes that create rectangular forms that sit at an angle to the overall dominate frontal composition of the frame. These rectangular panes of glass have the effect of breaking up the sameness that a rectangular motif might create if not varied enough within its borders. The wood below the window panes is also molded into rectangular forms that echo the panes and enhance the rectangular motif. The wood is a shade of green that nicely balances the deep green of the plants, vase, and strawberry bowl. The effect of the door being ajar in the background reveals a surprising dash of another color, red, in the form of a tapestry on the wall inside this second room. The gape in the door then essentially frames the tapestry into a longer, vertical rectangular form that continues the frame’s dominate motif.
To the right of the slightly opened door a lantern hangs in a space on the wall that obviously needed to be filled to balance the composition; within the context of a medium-shot frame, which this one is, the lantern becomes rectangular, just as one can imagine the various elements of the railing, with its unevenly matched wood verticals and horizontal top, as spatially rectangular in its construction.
Finally, the director or set designer throws a monkey wrench into the composition in what one imagines is a fit of mirth. Two triangles threaten the dominate motif. One is on the L configured wall at the left of the frame; the other is above the slightly ajar door at center-right of the composition. Upsetting the frame’s dominating rectangular motif, the triangles become focal and save the frame from cliché by suggesting the essence of imperfection.