Life Lessons from Abbas Kiarostami


His films emerged from the simplest of things, from the smallest of moments. Abbas Kiarostami knew how to find the fascinating in the banalities of life. He didn’t make up extraordinary stories and extraordinary worlds in his movies, but he looked for ordinary lives in exceptional moments. He wanted people to believe in his movies. He liked making movies that showed by not showing, that left questions unanswered, that did not explain, that worked up the viewer’s imagination, and was against the kind of cinema that didn’t ask the audience to think. Rules weren’t an obstacle for him, but rather a way to forever stimulate his imagination. In the simplicity of the people in his native Iran, he found a poetic understanding of life that much compensated for the lack of their technical development.

He was a firm believer that films bind us together in incredible ways, and, even more importantly, that cinema moves us beyond reality, bringing us closer to our dreams. In his filmmaking, he was driven by the philosophy that “you have to have the courage to experiment and take risks without being intimidated by the fact that only six people might see the result”. This is a director whose films I want to watch. And I do hope that his conviction that “the bombastic film – made by technicians and bureaucrats, not storytellers – will one day self-destruct” will become a reality.

Because life itself was Abbas Kiarostami’s greatest inspiration, here are a few life lessons to take away from the book Lessons with Kiarostami.

Do your work with no expectations beyond personal satisfaction.

Small projects keep us agile for bigger ones.

Education might be the key to society’s problems, but it can also suffocate, erase personality, and crush the imagination. Knowledge for its own sake isn’t useful. It has to be personalised. Collective thinking troubles me.

Cherish the incidental. Embrace the accidental.

Laziness is a sin.

The most wondrous period in the life of a human being is childhood, when encountering even the most minuscule things becomes a process of radical exploration. It’s a pity we leave those times behind so quickly.

Do all you can to enjoy life.

Can anyone other than you determine the true value of your work?

Do nothing on anyone else’s terms.

Self-confidence is vital. But self-importance is unappealing, the most unpleasant of traits. Humility pays dividends.

The most effective of tears doesn’t run down the cheek, it glistens in the eye.

Don’t waste a single second. Be yourself now.

The more forms of connectivity there are, the more I take shelter from such things.

There is no one in the world who doesn’t have a story to tell.


Related content: Life Lessons from John Cassavetes / This Summer We Are Channelling: Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy / Life Lessons from Akira Kurosawa

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