Warmly courteous behind his trademark dark glasses, he apologises for being preoccupied with rehearsing Juliette Binoche next door. Certified Copy, to be shot in Tuscany this month in French and English, will be his first feature to be filmed outside Iran. On the walls of MK2, the French company that co-produces his films, is some of his photographic work of zig-zag roads and snow-covered landscapes. (His visa problem meant he also missed the opening of an exhibition of his photography last month at the Purdy Hicks Gallery in London’s Bankside.)
He developed an interest in photography in the 1970s from scouting for locations in the Iranian countryside, but has exhibited his work only since the 1990s; its global sales have helped to subsidise his films. “I film normal-life subjects in natural settings that some people would consider uncinematic. But what I want to show is nature itself, as the truth of life.” He avoids human figures in his photography, and considers it a “purer” medium than cinema. “The moment of the picture is one of personal truth, not of a story. I feel something in a landscape and want to capture it; only that moment is shown.”
Also a screenwriter and poet, Kiarostami has in recent years made video installations such as Sleepers, of two sleeping lovers, for the Venice Biennale in 2001, and Forest of Leaves (2005) at the V&A. For him, art can reframe even the trivial details of life, spurring us to take a fresh look at them. Films such as Close-Up (1990), which dramatised the case of an unemployed print worker arrested for passing himself off as the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makmalbaf, blur the line between fiction and documentary. His frequent intrusion of the filmmaking process forces viewers to question the boundaries between reality and representation, truth and fabrication, life and art.
His most recent film, Shirin, will be screened at the Edinburgh film festival on 19 June, with a UK-wide release a week later. A bold experiment, it is 90 minutes of close-ups of more than 100 women – including a headscarved Binoche – as they watch a film based on a 12th-century poem by Nezami Ganjavi about a love triangle involving an Armenian princess and a Persian prince. Light from a screen flickers on the women’s faces; their expressions alone create the drama.
Coup de cœur: Kiarostami on Digital Camera (Voice-over in English)