Enigmatic (make that typically enigmatic) film from Abbas Kiarostami, Iran’s car-fixated auteur. A beautifully observed piece, built on a wisp of narrative that brings a group of city types (from Tehran?) into a rural community for some ill-defined purpose. Their leader, the only one of the group we properly meet, chats up the locals on the declining health of the town’s centenarian. Reserved, but unfailingly polite, the villagers seem unable to refuse a request while a young boy, busy with school exams, acts as unofficial guide. He’s helpful, too, yet there’s something prickly (and faintly comic) in all the relationships. Perhaps it’s because no one’s quite sure what’s this stranger is up to. And his crew always seems to be off hunting up fresh strawberries. He’s referred to as ‘engineer,’ but wants it put out that he’s there looking for treasure, whatever that might be. Meanwhile, he spends half the film chasing up ‘hot spots’ to find cell phone reception. Best spot: mountain cemetery. Kiarostami works up answers to a few of these story strands as the film drifts along, but the point isn’t explanation, but contemplation. And the slight edge of mystery has a satisfaction of its own in this beautifully paced, richly visual abstraction of a film.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Kiarostami makes a rare misstep using a tight mirror's POV shot for the stranger’s morning shave. Uncomfortably close, in more ways than one, and too clever by half.