Zendegi va digar hich

 (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1992) 95 minutes


Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Producer: Ali Reza Zarrin
Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography: Homayun Payvar
Editors: Abbas Kiarostami, Changiz Sayad
Farhad Kheradmand (Film Director)
Buba Bayour (Puya)
Hocine Rifahi
Ferhendeh Feydi
Mahrem Feydi

Reviews and notes

1992 Fajr [Iran], Cannes, Toronto, Tokyo, New York, Thessaloniki
1993 San Francisco, Wellington, Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver, São Paulo
1994 Göteborg, Locarno, Vienna
1999 Istanbul, Taipei

In the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake in Iran that left fifty thousand dead, Abbas Kiarostami returned to Koker, where his camera surveys not only devastation but also the teeming life in its wake. Blending fiction and reality into a playful, poignant road movie, And Life Goes On... follows a film director who, along with his son, makes the trek to the region in hopes of finding out if the young boys who acted in Where Is the Friend’s House? are among the survivors, and discovers a resilient community pressing on in the face of tragedy. Finding beauty in the bleakest of circumstances, Kiarostami crafts a quietly majestic ode to the best of the human spirit.
- Janus Films.

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has been hailed worldwide and particularly in France by Positif and Cahiers du cinema as a modern master, yet none of the films he has directed has been distributed in the UK until now. The single example of his work exhibited widely here is Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon, which Kiarostami scripted and which won the Camera D'or in Cannes in 1995. Kiarostami came to film making via the designing of children's books and some film credits sequences. He became a film-maker himself only when he founded the cinema department of the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in Iran, with which he has made a large number of documentary films.

The 'fiction' feature film which brought him to international prominence, Where is My Friend's House?, was made in 1989. It has become the first part of a trilogy in which each subsequent film has self-consciously used the making of its predecessor as the basis for a new story. And Life Goes On... is the second part, in which the 'fictional' film director of Where Is My friend's House? searches through a region devastated by an earthquake that hit Iran in 1990 to see if the boy who played the lead role in the first film survived the catastrophe (he is a local boy, not a professional actor). The third part, Through the Olive Trees, describes how, during the filming of And Life Goes On..., a boy is accidentally cast opposite the neighbour he is in love with.

And Life Goes On... is about human resilience to disaster and the need to shrug off the immobilising power of grief. The film 'takes advantage' of the aftermath of a real earthquake and tells a fictionalised version of events that happened to Kiarostami himself. Like Where is My Friend's House? and most of Kiarostami's documentary work, And Life Goes On... pays tribute to the straightforward thinking and hardiness of children. It is Puya, not his film director father, who understands the importance of the soccer match to the earthquake survivors, and who remarks coolly to a grieving mother of her dead son that God is not to blame and that at least the son now won't have to do his homework. Kiarostami has been accused of sentimentality and of dodging the wider political/religious issues of life in Iran by focussing on young people in this way, but as far as death and mass destruction are concerned, And Life Goes On... is rigorously unsentimental. The director's technique in dealing with the real people who play themselves in his films, the apparent warmth and patience inherent in every shot, might be viewed as an intrinsically sentimental process - especially given the preponderence of children - but only if the results elicit mere sympathy. And Life Goes On... is often, if not always, more hard nosed than that, pitching a certain concentrated grimness of tone against the apple-cheeked appeal of the youngsters.

In fact the most striking thing about Kiarostami's films is their austerity. There is a strong sense while watching And Life Goes On... that this road movie could be a documentary being compiled in real time, like an unedited 'video diary', but it's an illusion born of careful construction. Much of the film is made up of shots from just three camera positions: an oblique medium close up of the film director driving, a deep focus shot through his right hand window which takes in passing devastation at the roadside, and a shot through the windscreen of the road ahead. When the point-of-view moves away from the the car, it remains unobtrusive, kept at a respectful distance from the real people Kiarostami employs as actors in his story (his obvious touchstones in this respect are Rossellini and Bresson). When the camera does take a rare step back for a landscape shot, it is quietly telling: the director's tiny car approaches huge fissures in the side of a mountain, long-shadowed figures haunt a burial ground, the underpowered car does a final scramble up the too-steep hillside. The delicacy and precision in the choosing and editing of these shots is unquestionable.

As all films made in Iran have to be approved by the theocracy, there is a temptation to look for allegorical meanings in the work produced there. On that basis, And Life Goes On... might seem to offer rich inferences. The earthquake, for example, could conveniently be seen by Westerners as an equivalent catastrophe to the Islamic fundamentalist revolution. Yet, in its single-minded concentration on microcosmic detail, And Life Goes On... resists such readings. If you never get an inkling of, say, how many local men were 'martyred' in the long war with Iraq, you do find out much about the insistence of a beleagured people on determining their own lives within the limits of a harsh environment, and about how a talented film-maker such as Kiarostami can usefully (as well as aesthetically) interact with such a community in its own depiction. But whether that makes him a modern master, I'm not so sure.
- Nick James, Sight & Sound, October 1996.

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