Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami
To say that Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us is an unhurried film would be quite the understatement. This deliberately crafted and contemplative work, one of the great Iranian director’s finest films, moves at the pace of life. Not life as in the hustle and bustle or stolid banality of one’s everyday experiences, but life as in the gradual evolution of humankind’s basic existence. Reflecting the lives of those who inhabit the rural Kurdish village that serves as the film’s setting, The Wind Will Carry Us unfolds slowly and episodically, with its drama, or lack thereof, coming and going at a capricious moment’s notice.
Kiarostami begins the film as we follow a car driven by disembodied voices that bicker about directions and banter about the countryside. They drive and drive, along winding roads, up and down the mountains, through farmland peppered with single trees that serve as location markers. We don’t see in the car, but it becomes clear through the dialogue that the further the men go, the further they voyage from urban modernity to a remote, rural, almost alien land. They finally arrive at their destination, an isolated village that seems to be literally carved from one of the mountains; it erupts from the earth like an organically developed outgrowth of the terrain itself. Of these men, only one will emerge as a character. This man, played by Behzad Dorani, appears to be the leader of the group, and he’s the first to make contact with the inhabitants of this village — “You’ve hidden it well,” he says.
This man, referred to as the “engineer” (His profession? An honorific title? A nickname?) is met by a young boy named Farzad. This child will act as the engineer’s guide and his key local associate. It’s good that he has a guide too, for we soon see that this labyrinthine village mirrors the landscape, with passageways and platforms developing into layer upon layer of residence. As if in a structure from a Jacques Tati film or as in the best sequence from Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, characters appear, disappear, and reappear as they make their way through their surroundings. Rooftops lead to front doors and steps rest at raised gathering places. The engineer asks the boy where his school is. “This way and that,” he says. It’s likely this is where any part of this village could be.
It’s not made clear at the start — to the villagers or the audience — but these men have actually arrived to document a death ritual to be performed once an elderly woman passes away. This lady, Mrs. Malek, the centenarian grandmother of Farzad, is an invalid who has been very sick for some time. It should be any day now that she departs. But it doesn’t happen that fast. In fact, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen at all. Perhaps she’s even getting better. In any case, Dorani and his crew must remain on the scene, just in case anything should happen.
Subsequently, there is downtime, a lot of downtime. The crew remains largely unseen and inactive, not that there would be anything for them to do anyway, but Dorani is more lively and curious and refuses to remain idle. During the days that pass, he busies himself by wandering around, by foot or in his car, visiting and chatting with the locals. Archaic though it may be, he is absorbed in, and seemingly enchanted by, this traditional culture. It’s easy to see how. The villagers are welcoming, accommodating, and respectful to the stranger. There is, amongst themselves and with him, a constant exchanging of pleasantries, warm greetings of “How are you?” and salutations of “Good luck.” And wherever he goes, he is offered food and drink. It’s a leisurely, simple life here, a life he admires and desires, even if he seems to feel above it. It’s a place where people sit and gather at undefined communal grounds and where they don’t have bosses or disturbances – this, as opposed to his constantly ringing cell phone and assertive demands.
There’s a lot of subtle humor in the film, and the reoccurring cell phone calls contribute to some of the most amusing sequences. The village gets little reception, so with every call, Dorani is forced to rapidly seek higher ground, which usually involves him rushing to his car and driving up the nearest mountain. This repeated quest is comical and is clearly meant to comment on the incongruity of such technology in the region (the car breaking down at the beginning of the film perhaps served the same purpose).
While the rest of his crew grows impatient, getting sick of waiting for the old woman to die, Dorani seems perfectly content to remain. The crew is restless to return to Tehran, some 450 miles away, and they try to push for some action. “I can’t strangle her!” he argues. Similarly, his producer, the source of so many of the phone calls, is upset that nothing is happening. This old woman was supposed to have one foot in the grave. Her continuing to live is not part of their plan. It’s certainly callous, and at one point, the engineer asks if he’s a bad person, but that’s their business — they want results. That’s not how life unfolds though, certainly not this kind of life. There is no plan.
All of this does give the film a measured pace, and at 118 minutes, Kiarostami takes his time. Fortunately, aside from being a director of sublime thematic and emotional resonance, Kiarostami is also a visually inventive filmmaker. He will vary his unorthodox compositions in terms of distance and angle, but in The Wind Will Carry Us, he frequently incorporates a stylistic strategy whereby Dorani is talking with people we don’t see, at least not right away. Their position is either obscured by their surroundings, such as the man digging a ditch, whom we never see since he is below ground and Kiarostami’s camera never is, or where the other characters are speaking off-screen, the dialogue playing out without instantly establishing who is it speaking nor their spatial relationship to Dorani. Forget textbook shot-reverse-shot technique or the employment of clearly defined over-the-shoulder camera positioning; if and when Kiarostami does film an exchange between two characters where he cuts between both parties (and he literally cuts – he edited the film), they are shot singularly, frontally, and squarely in the frame. There are times as well when Kiarostami has some fun with the camera, such as the above mentioned disappearing/reappearing acts as characters stroll through the village’s architectural web, or when he shows Behzad shaving directly into the camera, the lens as his mirror.
The Wind Will Carry Us comes from a poem by Forough Farrokhzad, which Dorani recites, and though it wasn’t the first title chosen for the film, it perfectly suits the depiction of the life and lives of this village. This existence is one of natural motivation, with little to no synthetic influence. The images of a turtle slowly walking along, of the crops swaying in the breeze, and the meandering river all suggest a graceful, unassuming path of life and death, not one that can be adjusted to comply with the superficial needs of a television crew.