A man while driving his car rummages through a group of men as he drives past them, he is looking for someone. The scene is shot in a shot-reverse shot method and we either see the driver rummaging through the crowd or the people outside his car, looking directly into the camera inside the car, asking if he want laborers. The window of the car serves as a frame in which we see the outside world and we are sitting right next to the driver and slowly the world outside begins to open and with that we begin to glimpse inside the mind of the driver. While watching this opening scene one might have mixed feelings but the strongest and commonest of all would be the realistic nature of these images.
It is a sensory atmosphere, where you look at the men peeking inside the car, a blacksmith hammering with his tools, some man talking on a phone in booth nearby, construction sounds, workers chanting, sounds of bulldozers, the tires rumbling over the gravel of the unpaved roads, sirens wailing, children playing, while the man keeps driving amidst these barren landscapes. The sights and sounds complement each other creating a space around us while we travel in this spaceship called car.
Abbas Kiarostami gives us around ten minutes to acclimatize ourselves to this space before he breaks for titles and even while the titles appear, the sounds exists retaining us in this space.
The Driver is Mr. Badii and he wants to commit suicide, we don’t know why, and he wouldn’t disclose it ever. In a way he is spared from our sympathy, but he wants us to empathise with him and understand the situation at hand, he just needs a few spades of dirt over his body in the hole he has dug where he’ll be sleeping forever after he’s swallowed some sleeping pills. But of course it is difficult to get someone for the job. The ambiguity of Mr. Badii immediately puts us in the shoes of the people whom he is trying to convince. We become these invisible spectators in that Range Rover and mostly from a first person’s viewpoint, Mr. Badii and the passengers of his car always speak looking into the camera, as though they are talking with us, even the shots looking outside the car are taken from Mr. Badii’s perspective. It’s a very natural world and it draws us in like a magnet though many a times we are pushed out of this world to have a God’s view of the car traversing through the winding roads and even while we are looking at this car from a top view, we could still hear the conversations thus making us omniscient entities.
The technique of Kiarostami is unique, he makes us stare into a void and at the same time personalizes us with it. The minimalism that every one speaks about his films is actually the richness of the experience he puts us through. He creates layers of sights and sounds, of perspectives, of colloquies and lets us become part of it. While the characters chat, there is constant sound of the car engine rumbling, the spaces outside are constantly moving and the two faces emote vulnerably. The closeness to the faces only brings us closer to their realities, and while we explore the landscapes of their thoughts, the contiguous texture of car and ambient sounds from the barren lands makes us explore the barrenness of their existences. Also Kiarostami takes a very different approach with his actors, he never lets them react the way they wouldn't in their real lives, and while keeping the conversations real, he slowly blurs the line between fact and fiction.
The three main characters apart from the protagonist brings three totally distinct perspectives. And with every character Mr, Badii the protagonist has a different approach. He sounds authoritative while talking to the timid soldier and almost barks orders, saying how a soldier must count or how a job is a job and it doesn't matter what the job is, it's the pay that matters. The soldier feels intimidated by Mr. Badii but that's Badii's approach to get the job done and his approach doesn't work. His second passenger is a seminarian with whom he debates over religion and also expresses discontent over his choice of career. We never find out how he met the third passenger, Kiarostami uses a little ellipsis here and we directly see the two characters discussing the task at hand. This third passenger is an old taxidermist and he brings in something which none of the other two passengers could and that is wisdom, however this wisdom doesn't hold any importance to Mr. Badii as he is determined on doing what he desires. It's like Mr. Badii gets three candidates and with each one, he only has one chance to convince them and he'll have to use the approach most appropriate.
Apart from these three interesting characters, there is a small chat Mr. Badii has with a security guard of a closed construction site who is also a refugee from Afghanistan. We never see him closely enough like other three characters, mostly from a distance or only through voice that converses off screen with Mr. Badii. But even if this character may look insignificant, he certainly brings another layer to the space they live in, which is a highly politicized one.
One of the most interesting scene from the film is when Mr. Badii's car suddenly stops working and we don't realize what has gone wrong, it is only after he steps out we see a wide shot of his front tire being slipped off the road, then immediately a group of green uniform clad smiling workers happily help him back on the road. It was like a little breakdown moment in his journey but then in no time he was back on his quest.
‘Taste of Cherry’ is more of an experience than a film. In that little space inside the car there are placed many different viewpoints. They talk about discipline, conflict in nations, war, religion, god, existence, beauty of nature and of course the taste of cherries.
Read further only if you are fine with spoilers, Mr. Badii finally convinces a man to do the job. So we see him later that night emerging from his apartment which is a simple yet a stunning shot of his apartment window and then we finally see him lying in the hole waiting to die. It’s thundering, we see a few flashes of lightning and then there’s darkness. I have always found the feeling of hope in Abbas Kiarostami’s films especially the endings like in ‘Where is My Friend’s Home?’ the last shot of the flower in the notebook fills our hearts with hope. ‘Taste of Cherry’ is no different, though it is melancholic in its mood sparing a few spurts of humour in between and it certainly heads towards a tragic end. The darkness after a few flashes of lightning soon turns into daylight, we are in the same spot and Mr. Badii is now sharing a cigarette with none other than the director himself. The scene has an outtake kind of feel, perhaps it is. But it certainly assures us, Mr. Badii isn’t dead.