What would cinema be without Abbas Kiarostami? Watching his films is a process of unlearning cinematic conventions and relearning the humanity within. He has time and again proved that the audience can be emotionally stimulated and for the right reason, without ever engaging them in the film. The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) is a testament why he never sacrifices Kiarostami the humanist for Kiarostami the filmmaker. The moral questions – of choices, of priorities and of conscience – which the film presents seem pertinent now, in these tough times, more than ever. I can guarantee that one ready to confront them would have understood him(her)self better at the end of it all. All it takes is a little patience and a willingness to introspect after the film has ended.
More than the apparent issue of communication and the lack of it, The Wind Will Carry Us seeks to question the definition of communication. Sure, the protagonist Behzad (played to perfection by Behzad Dorani) does have a cellular phone and the speedy vehicle to move around, but what was the use of it all? He is shortsighted in more ways than one and seems to forget details that he had voluntarily gathered moments ago (Ironically, the villages consider him to be a telecommunications engineer!). The villagers, on the other hand, are scientifically handicapped but that seems to be utterly insignificant. They commute very easily, they have multiple paths to the same destination for easy and quick access and they seem to be able to even move vertically though the village using ladders and the serpentine alleys. They seem to know who lives where and at what distance a resource is to be found. This partly is reflected in their priorities in life and their attitudes towards it – gratefulness for the present and a reverence for the future.
The Wind Will Carry Us can very well serve as a commentary on how the developed nations and the Third World look at each other, but that would only be of minor significance compared to the seething humanity within and around the film. More than anything, The Wind Will Carry Us is a meditative self-portrait, or rather an attempt to look at oneself objectively. Kiarostami observes his own intrusion in the lives of unsuspecting locals and in general, the exploitative and manipulative relationship that exists between the filmmaker and his subjects. He drops enough hints suggesting this in the film. At one point in the film, Behzad is seen shaving facing the camera as the latter assumes the role of a mirror, which is not much different from what Kiarostami uses it as. Unlike in other Kiarostami “car trips”, the filmmaker protagonist is often filmed head on while driving the car, thereby obtaining a literal and figurative reflection of the camera on his spectacles – an indication that the person in front of the camera is not very unlike the one behind it.
Behzad, his alter ego, is the symbol of encroachment. He arrives ominously in his giant vehicle, tearing through the serene landscape of the secluded village, with a motive that is no more selfish than ours. His work involves the demise of an elderly woman of the village who is presently on her deathbed. Behzad spends time hoping against nature for the process to happen fast but things are not to be so. His attempt to strike up conversations with the village folk, more often than not, turns them off and renders them uncommunicative. In a remarkable scene, Behzad, in a fit of frustration, overturns a turtle on to its shell and leaves the place. The turtle, after a minor struggle, corrects itself and carries on with its journey. A while later, after he realizes that there is nothing now to fret over, he comes to understand how inconsequential his attempts are to dictate nature are, much like his car which is dwarfed by the colossal landscape.
In the court sequence of his marvelous film Where The Green Ants Dream (1984), Werner Herzog cuts away from the centre of attraction after the tribal chief starts unraveling a package that supposed to contain a sacred emblem as a sign of respect for the divine and the unknown. In The Wind Will Carry Us, Kiarostami keeps a host of characters off-screen and denotes their presence employing just subdued voices and Behzad’s response to them. Nor does he show us the interior of the houses in the village. The camera is fixed on Behzad throughout the film but prefers to stay at the doorstep even if he doesn’t. And this is where the contrast between Behzad the actor and Kiarostami the director– the past and the present of Abbas Kiarostami, his mistakes and their corrections – is established. It is a reverence that Kiarostami seems to have gotten the hard way. A reverence that acknowledges the right of things to exist as they are.
The final scene is perhaps the most heartwarming and ethical Kiarostami has ever filmed. Behzad, convinced that his stay of two weeks has taken its toll on both him and the villagers, decides to do away with the final physical traces of the village on him, After washing the dust off the windshield of his car, he throws into a stream the last remnant he possesses – a thigh bone that he picked up earlier – in an attempt to restore the spiritual balance of the land that he may have disturbed. Like Herzog who has consistently been against the intrusion of man in the clockwork of nature, Kiarostami calls for a “calculated indifference” towards the way various cultures work and a regard for its methods against one’s own judgment. However, it should not be assumed that Kiarostami is lashing out against the domineering and subsequently destructive nature of man. Behzad is anything but despicable. He merely acts by impulse and his notions of right and wrong, which may well differ from the villagers’. By creating a multi-dimensional protagonist whose morals and desires are very much our own, Kiarostami’s gesture comes out both as a token of heartfelt atonement and a subtle appeal for recognition and preservation of diversity.