10 January 2001 | the red duchess
A mystery film in more ways than one.
'The Wind Will Carry Us' is above all a detective story in its purest form, about the desire to know. This act of enquiry is extended to both the recording gaze of the camera and that something else emanating in the film's figurative language, the prevalance of natural objects that are what they are - trees, bridges, turtles, the wind, the river etc. - but also something else, something beautifully expressed, but only partially glimpsed, in the quotations from scripture and poetry that run through the film, from that gorgeous description at the beginning of trees as being greener than God's dreams, to the closing image of the hurled bone carried by the rapid stream down goat-chomping banks.
Such an image may remind Western viewers of Kubrick or Renoir. This is the large 'problem' with the film; rather, the problem of any viewer confronting any artwork from an alien culture. I was thinking of not even going to 'Wind', in spite of Kiarostami's reputation as THE director of the 1990s, and the fact that I loved 'Close-Up'. Early reviews made it seem dispiritingly forbidding, and who wants to go to a film if you have to read a ten-page article in 'Cineaste' to understand it? This kind of 'praise' is ultimately detrimental to the films - do we really 'get' Mizoguchi, Ray or Paradjanov films in their entirety either?
I won't lie: it's frustrating watching a film full of obviously symbolic moments that I can't grasp because I am culturally ignorant: the last ten minutes especially are baffling in their move to the ritual or abstract. The risk is to transpose Iranian figuration to their Western meanings, and thus dilute them. But, the film, as Kiarostami's are reputed to, unearth the universal through concentration on the culturally specific (although I've always found 'universality' a dubious aim).
Like I say, the film is a detective story, and if we can't solve the figurative, or metaphysical clues (although most of the poems are clear and lovely and resonant), there are other mysteries, both for the viewer and the main character. Who are these disembodied voices we hear but cannot see guiding us through a landscape at once natural, historical, poetic, social and religiously symbolic? Why have they come to this particular village? Why does the hero keep asking about this particular woman, and why does another woman keep ringing him on his borrowed mobile? Who are his shadowy companions?
Our bewilderment is shared by the 'modern' protagonist, who has to negotiate this seemingly medieval landscape with the aid of a guide (there are many fairy tale motifs throughout, from the forking roads and car breaking down, to the man getting trapped in a hole of his own making, reminding us that Iran was one of the fertile stages for the 'Arabian Nights').
This film may mean most to Iranians and pseuds, but will surely be resonant to anyone who's read Beckett, or been simply burdened with humanity - the constant waiting for something inexplicable to happen; the unseen, insistent powers that determine everything; the gallows humour of the only clear signal for a mobile phone being in a cemetary. The amazing thing about Kiarostami's famed (almost Borgesian) formalism and his metaphors is the way they arise so naturally from the realistic environment he's portraying, almost so you'd miss them - you have to look hard for the traces, the lines, the paralells, the repetitions, the angles, the reflections, the complex use of point of view that often seems literally god-like, and is of ambiguous attribution. Above all, it is a funny, engrossing, unsentimental look at people we rarely see on screen.