There is a contemporary mode of expressing grief, which I have been struck by for some time. It consists, when a death is announced, of immediately posting, from the vaults of the poorly-named “memory” of the web, phrases, clips and key moments, thereby summarising, in a more or less lightning-like montage (as Pasolini put it) the story of a life. But it seems to me that the novelty of the procedure consists less in establishing an iconographic hagiography of an individual’s life-story (news outlets have long adopted this practice), than in allowing us to relive the impact of the life and work on our own life, and to share a singular, striking fragment from it. It seems to me that this is what this gesture of sharing an archive, an image, a poem, a clip found on the web signifies: “I was touched by the unique grace of the being who just died, and I want you to know the place he occupies in my life,” or “I am among those touched by this being who just died, because his work is part of my memory, and it has shaped my sensibility.” This gesture is also a way of forging a community, of creating links, and it is possibly the technique that our societies have discovered to accelerate the work of mourning, by inscribing it in a circumscribed social ritual which condenses its presence into actuality (in the same way that funerals or days of mourning function as a means for framing pain, but also for fixing limits to this pain). In other words, it is a ritual conceived to allow us to forget and pass rapidly on to something else.
We know that death affects the archive by inscribing it in another temporality or, better, by revealing its own profound temporality: every archive speaks to us from death, and every new death that touches us is a reminder of this. The same goes for memory. Suddenly, with death, the fragile edifice that was unwittingly constructed within us rises up. On every level, in every room, in every brick, are the decisive moments of our relationship with this curious thing that we call an œuvre. The image of Sabzian, perched on Makhmalbaf’s scooter, holding a bouquet of gerbera daisies, is a metonym sufficient to incarnate the poetic grace of Kiarostami’s cinema. This scene, this particular moment in our cinephilia, is also our point of contact with the film, and awakens the sensory sediment that has accumulated in our memory. As I re-watch these red spots, sprinkled above Sabzian’s beard and his blue jacket, this bouquet suddenly becomes funereal, as if the two emotional men were making their way to Kiarostami’s grave, and it dawns on me that the filmmaker’s work has accompanied my life for twenty years.
At Medium, writer Durga Chew-Bose also memorializes Kiarostami and beautifully describes why his films are so vital and moving:
He was sensitive to light. A condition that required Abbas Kiarostami to wear his signature tinted glasses, which gave the impression he was always at the movies — in the dark, both storyteller and audience, watching life as if it were being projected inside his lenses.
He was sensitive to light, too, in his work. Those searching, pared down, coaxed-by-the-car conversations, and those patient reveals — if you can even call them that — are at the heart of Kiarostami’s most moving works. He was sensitive to light not as it improves on or clarifies truth, but how without it, there are no shadows: the unseen, what’s off-screen, what’s usually overlooked or what barely happens. Those revelations that can only occur when we’re no longer seeking what’s distinct but instead feel extra prone to life as it’s wonderfully, uneventfully, happening.
That was Kiarostami’s — not gift — but eloquence. How the prosaic, when given time to breathe instead of rushed into action — like chatter between two characters, for instance — can disclose life’s most electric pursuit: connection.