The highlight of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable annual Festival of Films from Iran, the 26th edition of which kicked off on February 6 and runs through the end of the month, is Take Me Home, the final work of director Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away last year at the age of 76. Although this playful 15-minute movie is being billed as an opening act for the feature-length documentary 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami—a formidable film in its own right—Take Me Home is actually the best reason to attend the program. Like Manoel de Oliveira’s final movie One Century of Power, which it resembles in its wordlessness and brief running time, Kiaorstami’s short is the loveliest swan song imaginable for one of cinema’s greatest artists and a fitting parting gift to his fans. This wondrous film, as aesthetically beautiful and appropriate-for-children as Albert Lamorisse’s classic The Red Balloon, concerns a boy who leaves a soccer ball on the front steps of his home before going inside; unbeknownst to him, the ball rolls down the steps and out of the frame. Then, in the following shot, it rolls down another flight of steps. Then another. And another… 15 minutes later, one may feel that Abbas Kiarostami has taken back the staircase from Sergei Eisenstein iconic Battleship Potemkin montage.
Take Me Home is an exercise in montage editing in which the same ball can be seen cascading down dozens of flights of stairs in a series of matching cuts that defy geographical logic but that have been edited (by Kiarostami protégé Adel Yaraghi) in a rhythmic way and accompanied by a delightful jazz score. In many ways, the ball is an excuse for for the black-and-white shots of the stairs, which Kiarostami frames so elegantly that each one resembles a fine-art photograph that you might want to frame and hang inside your home. Longtime followers of the director’s work will recognize familiar elements: the black-and-white cinematography, child protagonist, and soccer ball all hark back to Kiarostami’s first feature, 1974’s The Traveler (thus bringing his career full circle), while the interplay of chance and predetermination, conjured by the chaotic trajectory of a moving ball within carefully composed static shots, calls to mind one of the director’s most famous images—the cosmic, comical shot of an aerosol can rolling down a hill, which seems to be a non-sequitur but is actually the mysterious heart of Close-Up, an essential documentary about filmmaking and con-artistry. Kiarostami was preparing to shoot a new feature in China at the time of his death, a film that will sadly never be made. As the cinema will not see the like of his genius again, Chicago movie lovers would do well to attend this screening and pay their final respects.
Take Me Home and 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami screen on Saturday, February 18 and Sunday, February 19. Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeedvafa, co-authors of the critical biography Abbas Kiarostami, will discuss the director's career after the Saturday show. For more information visit the Siskel Center’s website.