The Koker Trilogy
And Life Goes On
Abbas Kiarostami first came to international attention for this wondrous, slyly self-referential series of films set in the rural northern-Iranian town of Koker. Poised delicately between fiction and documentary, comedy and tragedy, the lyrical fables in The Koker Trilogy exemplify both the gentle humanism and the playful sleight of hand that define the director’s sensibility. With each successive film, Kiarostami takes us deeper into the behind-the-scenes “reality” of the film that preceded it, heightening our understanding of the complex network of human relationships that sustain both a movie set and a village. The result is a gradual outward zoom that reveals the cosmic majesty and mystery of ordinary life.
The second film in Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker Trilogy, And Life Goes On (aka Life and Nothing More), is presented on the second dual-layer disc of Criterion’s box set. The film comes with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The master has been sourced from a new 2K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Like Where Is the Friend’s House?, And Life Goes On has been painstakingly restored and the end results are staggering. Some minor issues remain, like bits of dirt, some stains and squiggly lines on the side of the screen, but the majority of the film is clean and can even look as though it has been filmed recently. The film leans warmer with its colours, but it feels suiting and they look well rendered and saturated, with black levels also looking spot on.
The digital presentation itself is about flawless. It renders grain incredibly well, free of noise, and detail levels are striking because of it. There are a number of long shots of the landscape, or of very grassy fields, or densely wooded areas, and the details in these shots are distinct and crisp. Some shots can come off a bit fuzzier but this looks to be inherent to the photography. I was expecting something maybe a bit more problematic due to the source but similar to Where Is the Friend’s House? it ends up being a wonderful surprise.
And Life Goes On also feature a Farsi monaural soundtrack, presented here in lossless 1.0 PCM. There is far more activity going on in this film in comparison to the previous one (cars going about, construction work, groups of people talking) and the track has some decent heft behind it, with a decent amount of range and excellent clarity. Music that pops up plays at low levels but it also has some nice depth to it. The track is also clean and free of distortion.
Of the three discs in the set And Life Goes On ends up offering the most material, including an audio commentary by scholars Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum, co-authors of the book Abbas Kiarostami. Though they do talk about the trilogy as a whole (even bringing up moments where this film crosses with the other two) the track is pretty specific to this film as it (and the journey he made that influenced it) marked a changing point in Kiarostami’s life and his films, particularly his mix of narrative and documentary (with Close-Up getting mentioned often throughout the track). The two also talk a little bit about Iranian cinema to give more context to Kiarostami’s career, and also talk about how Iranian and western audiences view his films (his later films proved less popular in Iran) and Rosenbaum event quotes some of the unfavorable reviews And Life Goes On received from Iranian critics (one was annoyed by how European the protagonist looked). I’m a little disappointed Criterion didn’t see fit to include a track for each film in the set but considering the importance of this film in relation to Kiarostami’s career and how it shaped his trajectory from there they at least picked the right one to include a track with. It’s an insightful and engaging discussion.
After this is a 1994 episode from the French television program Cinémas de notre temps called Abbas Kiarostami: Truths and Dreams. The set-up for the 52-minute program, looking at his career up to that point (this would have been around the time Through the Olive Trees was released) is perfectly appropriate. In the episode Kiarostami returns yet again to the Koker area by car, trapping his interviewers with him, first going through the same toll booth that opened And Life Goes On (and apparently coming across the same toll booth operator in the film) and then traveling along the same route followed in that film, talking about his work along the way. He also visits the actors that appeared in his “Koker” films, which includes Hossein from that last two films (and Kiarostami even questions his wife about his real-life love interest in both films, maybe being a bit of a shit-disturber). As another bonus, he even visits the now-grown-up actor from his film The Traveler, even bringing a VHS copy of the film along with him. Most amusing is when Kiarostami talks to these former child performers, mentioning how reviews loved their performances but then reminds them he didn’t think they were all that great. It ends up all being surprisingly fun and along the way we get a great overview of his work up to this point and the direction it was going afterwards. For those unfamiliar with Kiarostami this works as an excellent primer and I highly recommend it.
Following this is a new interview with Hamid Naficy, author of A Social History of Iranian Cinema, who (after starting things off with a quote from Akira Kurosawa about Kiarostami) talks about the history of Iranian cinema, the Iranian New Wave, and how Kiarostami’s films fit into this timeline, starting with his early films centered around children all the way through to his later, less-straightforward films.
Taken altogether all of the supplements on this disc offer an overview of Kiarostami’s films, starting with his early works, and how And Life Goes On and the experiences around it proved to be a defining moment for him.
Probably the strongest disc in the set, it offers a surprisingly sharp and clean presentation for the film and an excellent collection of supplements about how importantly this film plays into his career.