To be honest, a film about a man driving around the Iranian countryside in a rickety vehicle doesn't sound particularly interesting or appealing. But when the man who made the movie is Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, there's a whole lot more going on than meets the eye.
That's because Kiarostami has a very deceptive method of storytelling. Rather than make overtly political or philosophical pictures, he slips messages and deeper meanings into films that are deceptively skimpy in subject matter (such as his low-key 1995 romantic comedy "Through the Olive Trees").However, that's a big part of Kiarostami's charm. With his newest drama, "Taste of Cherry," he even manages to explore one of his home country's most taboo subjects: suicide. And he doesn't pull his punches.
The story unfolds almost in "real" time, as Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), a despondent middle-aged man, drives around Tehran's hillsides looking for an accomplice to help him commit suicide.
Badii is hoping to find someone who will bury him after he takes a lethal dose of sleeping pills - or to help him out of his burial trench if he decides not to go through with it. But he encounters resistance at every turn.
First, he picks up a young Kurdish soldier (Ali Moradi) who practically leaps out of the moving vehicle to get away from him.
Then, a fundamentalist (Hossein Noori) debates him on the subject until a disgusted Badii nearly throws him out of the jeep.
And when a local taxidermist (Abdolhossein Bagheri) agrees to the scheme, it is because he is desperate for money to get a much-needed operation for his child. In fact, he wants little to do with the obsessively creepy man who seems to be in need of company as much as he requires a voice of reason.
The ending is shattering but not completely unexpected (and it's followed up with video documentary footage to show that this is only a film, after all).
What ultimately makes the film compelling, however, is that each of the men seems to represent a different position on the subject - even though their beliefs are never portrayed in a heavy-handed or less than sympathetic manner.
That's due to both Kiarostami's subtle scripting and utterly natural performances by a talented cast of newcomers. And there's no denying the effect of the filmmaker's sublime pacing.
"Taste of Cherry" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for brief vulgar taunts shouted by youngsters.