The Essentials: Abbas Kiarostami's Best Films

An awful year got worse yesterday with the announcement that Abbas Kiarostami, the great Iranian filmmaker, had passed away at the age of 76. Emerging as a leading light of the Iranian New Wave in the 1970s, Kiarostami stayed in the country after the Islamic Revolution, and despite the restrictions that came with both the production of his work and getting it out of the country, Kiarostami soon found international acclaim, with “Where Is The Friend’s Home?” winning a top prize from the Locarno Film Festival and helping to establish him as one of the major figures in international cinema.

READ MORE: R.I.P. Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016)

His reputation only grew and grew over time: 1990’s “Close-Up” was named among the 50 Best Films ever made by the BFI in 2012, and 1997’s “Taste Of Cherry” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. He was almost universally known as one of film’s leading lights, and even in a year that’s seen us lose Jacques Rivette, Andrzej Zulawski and Michael Cimino, his loss feels like a particularly crushing one.

We console ourselves the only way we can, through his work, as impeccable a filmography as you could ask for. Below, you’ll find an old retrospective circa the release of “Like Someone In Love,” Kiarostami’s final film, in 2013, featuring our eight favorite films by the director (leaning towards his fictional work, though fiction and documentary were malleable things in his hands). Hopefully it’ll encourage existing fans to revisit his work, and newcomers to start delving into it. Let us know what the filmmaker’s work meant to you in the comments.


“Where Is The Friend’s Home?” (1987)
The inimitable Iranian filmmaker struck gold early on with his second feature, following a young boy attempting to deliver a notebook to his classmate which he absent-mindedly left at school. Should the boy return to class without this, he’ll most certainly be expelled. The duration of the story involves the journey, which entails meeting various folk along the way who provide insight as well as directions. In a way it’s kind of like the loosely-plotted road movies we’ve all come to know and love; the filmmaker uses the light premise to explore the rural areas and typical culture of the area. It’s much more touching and optimistic than other renowned child-perspective movies (“The 400 Blows,” “L’enfance nue“) and without the spurious nature of movies that tread on similar sentimental water. [B+]

Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Hossein Sabzian in Abbas Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP (1990). Courtesy Janus Films. Playing 3/26-4/1.

“Close-Up” (1990)
Playing fast and loose with the tenets of cinematic truth, documentary truth and outright lies, this genre-bending experiment focuses on the true-life story of a man who impersonated a filmmaker to ingratiate himself into the lives of an innocent family in Tehran. While this is played for fiction, Kiarostami has the real-life people playing themselves, acting out the charade of their lives, while peppering in actual footage of the ensuing trial. The combination of truth and playfulness seems like a rarity in the often seemingly stone-faced work of Kiarostami, but if anything, this film helps one to appreciate the sly humor and deconstructionism of the rest of his oeuvre by being such a self-conscious experiment. Even (and perhaps especially) with the theatrics, it’s one of his most straightforward and fulfilling pictures. [A]