Taste of Cherry
The first Iranian film to win the Palme d’Or, this austere, emotionally complex drama by the great Abbas Kiarostami follows the middle-aged Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) as he drives around the hilly outskirts of Tehran looking for someone who will agree to dispose of his body after he commits suicide, a taboo under Islam. Extended conversations with three passengers (a soldier, a seminarian, and a taxidermist) elicit different views of mortality and individual choice. Operating at once as a closely observed, realistic story and a fable populated by archetypal figures, Taste of Cherry challenges the viewer to consider what often goes unexamined in everyday life.
Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry receives a much-needed Blu-ray upgrade from The Criterion Collection, who present the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration, which has been sourced from the 35mm original camera negative.
Criterion originally released the film on DVD just over a year after its theatrical release, and, with the film being so new at the time, the presentation found on that DVD was generally pleasing, at least on 4:3 CRT televisions. Unfortunately, the presentation has not stood the test of time: the DVD was not enhanced for widescreen televisions, was compressed onto a single-layer disc and the compression from that is far more obvious now thanks to rampant artifacts. Any quick movement, for example, resulted in motion blur.
Thankfully the new Blu-ray presentation corrects all of these issues and then some, delivering an undeniably gorgeous image. The picture now fills up widescreen televisions (which is a great upgrade all on its own!) and all of that compression noise is now gone. The final image, outside of the film’s ending, is far more film-like and clean, and motion no longer causes any sort of blur. Detail has been greatly improved upon, showcased easily in the main protagonist’s sweater and the long shots of the desert landscape, the latter delivering a wonderful sense of depth in the process. Film grain looks stunning and clean and there are no artifacts to speak of, outside of the film’s final moments. It may be a bit of a spoiler, but the final moments of the film are sourced from video playing on a monitor (intentionally) and this of course looks rough, but even this sequence looks better in comparison to the DVD, with the lines of pixels themselves managing to look sharper.
Though the DVD wasn’t too bad in this regard, this new restoration wipes out all of the damage that was still found on that edition. The colours are also different here. I felt the DVD leaned a bit too much on the warmer end of the spectrum (I felt it was maybe too "yellow" but looking at it now it's almost more like the reds are too heavy), though it did sort of suit the fllm. The colours here are cooler in comparison overall (maybe more of a teal push), and this is extremely noticeable thanks to, yet again, the protagonist’s sweater, which can take on a cooler, grayer look when he's in the car a shadowy area, though takes on more of a brown when he's in the sun, closer to what was on the DVD. As to which colour grading is more correct I can’t say, but I didn’t have an issue with it here, feeling it does look better than what the DVD offered, and I don’t feel it harmed the picture in any other way, black levels still looking on point.
All around, though, it's a significantly better video presentation, and its another case where it's worth upgrading to this new edition for the picture improvements alone.
The film’s Farsi monaural track is presented in lossless PCM. Even for a mono track it’s low key, but the track is still sharp and clean. Dialogue has some great fidelity and range behind it while background sound effects (the car driving down the road, birds chirping, noisy crowds) are distinct and clear themselves. There's also no damage or distortion to speak of.
The previous DVD only featured the film’s trailer and an interview with Abbas Kiarostami, both of which have been carried over here. In the interview (conducted by Dr. Jamsheed Akrami) Kiarostami talks about censorship in his country and the need to adjust oneself to the “rules”—so to speak—before getting int the film’s reception in the West and at home. He even talks about Quentin Tarantino, who was a juror alongside him at the Taormina International Film Festival in 1995. For this portion he speaks in English briefly, and though he doesn’t care for Tarantino’s films it seems he likes the man himself and admires his obvious love for film. Though this whole interview has obviously been truncated from a much longer piece (it was filmed for a documentary prior to the film's release) it’s still an excellent interview with the filmmaker. Thankfully Criterion presents the interview as one whole piece instead of breaking it up into five separate items, as they did on the DVD (maybe to make it look like there was more content on there).
For their prior DVD it was always disappointing that that was the extent Criterion chose to explore the film and the filmmaker (they wouldn't release another one of his films until Close-Up in 2010), but they do remedy that here. The most interesting new inclusion is the 39-minute Project, which is described as a “sketch” film that Kiarostami made with his son, Bahman, to help conceptualize Taste of Cherry. Footage from the finished film has been inserted into this so it’s obvious the director put this together after completing the film, but interspersed throughout is footage of Kiarostami and his son acting out key sequences in the film at the locations that were used (at least, this appears to be the case). Dialogue differs a bit (the protagonist would have offered even more money for the “job” in question) but the sequence of events plays out the same. This footage is also edited together with footage from the film from time to time, probably to compare the initial planning to the finished product, and there is some great behind-the-scenes footage showing Kiarostami aiding the film’s non-professional actors in their performances, and he was usually the one sitting across from whoever was on screen at that moment. It’s a great addition that I’m surprised Criterion didn’t include on their initial DVD but at least it’s here now.
Film scholar Hamid Naficy (who also appeared on Criterion’s edition for Kiarostami’s Koker Trilogy) next pops up for a 17-minute interview discussing the film (like how it shows the diversity of people in Iran, for example) and how Kiarostami’s work in advertising and government films led to the pacing and style of Taste of Cherry. Criterion also includes a 2017 piece created for The Criterion Channel by Kristin Thompson, called Abbas Kiarostami’s Landscapes, which starts out by looking at how landscapes play an important role in his films (focusing on Taste of Cherry and Where is the Friend’s House?), which plays into the structure and rhythms of his method of storytelling, leading one to speculate where the story is going (which ended up reminding me to how Roger Ebert, in his pan, originally interpreted the protagonist’s actions). It only runs 7-minutes but it’s a nicely edited piece that gets its points across clearly.
Criterion then includes a small insert. Dropping the very short essay by Godfrey Cheshire, they replace it with one by film critic A. S. Hamrah about the film and its relation to Kiarostami’s other films, before briefly getting into Ebert’s infamous pan.
Not a stacked special edition by any means but what Criterion has put together here is significantly more satisfying than their previous DVD edition.
A much-needed upgrade over Criterion’s now 21-year old DVD, offering more engaging special features and a gorgeous new audio/video presentation.