Surprise Visit

Christoph Huber

Abbas Kiarostami, poster boy John Ford, Film Museum director Alexander Horwath. Photo: Viennale/Alexander Tuma.
Abbas Kiarostami, poster boy John Ford, Film Museum director Alexander Horwath Photo: Viennale/Alexander Tuma

“Is this Abbas Kiarostami?”, my pal Danny Kasman asked before the screening of John Ford’s wonderful silent Kentucky Pride, pointing to a person standing with the back to us in the somewhat crowded Film Museum foyer. And, indeed, it was the Iranian director, in town to be awarded with the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.

Several other filmmakers in town for the Viennale showed up at the Ford retrospective, many of them known as Ford aficionados–whether Pedro Costa and Hartmut Bitomsky or avant-garde luminaries like Nathaniel Dorsky (a big fan of Wee Willie Winkie) and our own Harry Tomicek, who–using the home field advantage–even outdid young director Gustavo Beck as most frequent visitor (Beck, it should be noted, seemed present at every Ford screening during his visit except for the cursed time slot collisions, when he had to attend his own Q&A’s). Hell, even Abel Ferrara came to see Fort Apache, with lots of Whoa!- and Woohoo!-hollering emerging from his direction during the action scenes!

Still, at the sight of Kiarostami, I flashed back to an interview Dennis Lim did with him on the occasion of Certified Copy (2010):

Q: “When you made Certified Copy in Italy, several people likened it to Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, and now that you’ve made a film in Japan, some are invoking Yasujiro Ozu, to whom you dedicated your 2003 film Five. Are these accurate reference points, or are people being too literal-minded?

A: “I’ll make a film in the States, and if they say it’s like John Ford, then I’ll be able to answer. But as a matter of fact I’ve been influenced by both Rossellini and Ozu, and they were two of my favorite directors even before I was a filmmaker. I suppose it’s quite natural when you go to Ozu’s land to embrace Ozu, and the same with Rossellini too.”

As a viewer somewhat let down by Kiarostami’s turn towards total meta-ness in the last 15 years (some of his earlier work remains pretty impressive, however), I started to hope: Might he seek inspiration for a film in the States and turn towards Ford’s shining example? Kentucky Pride, after all, is told from the perspective of the horses, which should bring anybody back down to earth.

But, then I found a recent interview with Juliette Binoche, who said that Kiarostami is now “making a movie in China about a cleaning lady taking care of thousands of rooms in a big building.”

Still, let’s not abandon all hope that some of these rooms might feature talking horses–or maybe even donkeys!