When Indian director Satyajit Ray died in 1992, Akira Kurosawa praised him as "the greatest social realist filmmaker who ever lived." But when Kurosawa saw Abbas Kiarostami's "Through the Olive Trees" (1994), he said of the Iranian writer-director that "God has found the right person to take Satyajit Ray's place."
"Through the Olive Trees" is one of the 19 features and shorts that compose LACMA's Life and So Much More: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami, screening Friday and Saturday evenings, Oct. 12 to 27. This film, showing Oct. 20, couldn't be more understated or modest, yet in its indirect way it exerts a cumulative emotional tug. As funny as it is poignant, it was inspired by two young people who appeared in Kiarostami's "And Life Goes On" -- a.k.a. "Life and Nothing More" (Oct. 19) -- a 1991 account of a father and son traveling through earthquake-ravaged portions of Iran. The young man cast in "Life" as a bridegroom falls in love with the young woman cast as the bride; in desperation, he tries to make life imitate art.
In Kiarostami's 1974 debut, "The Traveler," which recalls Truffaut's "The 400 Blows," a husky adolescent is prepared to defy authority to travel 400 miles to Tehran to attend a national-championship soccer match. The individual's struggle against all odds, resulting in a testing of the human spirit, is a recurrent theme in contemporary Iranian cinema, but Kiarostami brings to it exceptional eloquence and compassion.
The 1997 "A Taste of Cherry" (Oct. 13) is a soaring parable in which a middle-aged man drives his Range Rover out of congested Tehran and into the mountains to find someone to bury him after his planned suicide. This odyssey, in which Kiarostami invites the viewer to contemplate life's meaning, became the first Iranian film to win a Golden Palm at Cannes. "Where Is the Friend's Home?" (Oct. 19), from 1987, is pure enchantment -- a wry, suspenseful, beautifully wrought tale revealing the indifference of adults toward children. A stalwart 8-year-old in a mountain village embarks on a lone trek by foot to return a notebook to a classmate who will be expelled if he doesn't have it to take to school the next morning.
The 2002 film "Ten" (Oct. 20) takes its title from the number of rides a young and beautiful, self-liberated middle-class woman takes with others in her car as she drives around Tehran over the course of several days. Kiarostami, filming primarily from a dashboard-mounted camera, found an ideal device to reveal the continuing oppression of women in Iran through the driver's interactions with others.
"The Wind Will Carry Us" (Oct. 27), a contemplative, minimalist work, is similar to "A Taste of Cherry" but not as powerful. This 1999 film finds a man heading for a mountain village in Iranian Kurdistan some 450 miles from Tehran. The villagers come to assume that he is an archaeologist looking for buried treasure in the local cemetery. He is actually a TV journalist intending to record the villagers' traditional funeral rituals upon the death of a very old woman -- who, alas, instead of growing weaker, rallies. In his self-absorption, the journalist becomes so preoccupied with waiting for a death to occur that he is unable to take any pleasure in being alive. The inherent irony in this plight is undercut because this film is overly long and meandering.
Among other films in the series is the 1990 "Close-Up" (Oct. 26), in which a young film buff impersonates noted director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.