Abbas Kiarostami, in Taste of Cherry, follows middle-aged Mr. Badii as he drives from the heart of Tehran into hills outside of town.  Tehran’s periphery seems like a wasteland — populated mainly by construction cranes, heavy-duty excavators, and a scraggly tree by which Mr. Badii has dug his own grave.  He drives without a particular destination, as if driving is its own form of meditation.

The summer after high school, I worked for Mann Theaters.  The chain is best known for its Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, but less well-known was the White Suburbanite Aurora Mall Theater.  I ripped tickets, slung sodas and developed a lifelong antipathy to popcorn.  One woman, I recall, kept asking for more and more ‘butter.’  (We weren’t supposed to call it ‘butter’ — “Would you like butter-flavor on your popcorn?”)  I pumped the dispenser until I reeked of grease,  until my clothes became transparent from stains — and she still wanted more.  She left with an inch of hot liquid in her bag, a lawsuit waiting to happen.

On nights when I had a closing shift, I left at 11:30 but didn’t go home right away.  Instead, I drove to the outskirts of Aurora, curious to see where major thoroughfares ended:  Alameda, Mississippi, Colfax.  As I traveled, the city devolved.  Sodium lights and strip malls gave way to residential neighborhoods, and from there, the clusters of houses thinned, giving way to farmland.  Agricultural machinery as architecture:  long arches of industrial irrigators, thick walls of vegetation.

In one scene from Taste of Cherry, Mr. Badii exits his car to watch a cement-making operation.  As bulldozers push red dirt and rocks from the top of a hill into a metal grate at the bottom, dust settles onto Mr. Badii’s hair and shoulders until he looks like he’s doubled in age.  I only left my car when the roads turned into gravel.  You’d think that farm land would be devoid of light, but you’d be wrong:  there are lights on the silos, lights on towers, lights on the occasional passing vehicle.  But it wasn’t the constant glow of the city.  I could see stars.

Near the end of the film, Mr. Badii stares into the stormy Iranian sky.  His face is impassive, with no indication of what he’s thinking.  I can’t rightly say that on those quiet summer nights before college, I knew what I was thinking either.  Maybe typical teenage meditations on Life and Death.  I didn’t have passengers off which I could bounce my ideas:  no soldiers, no seminarians, no taxidermists.  But for a moment, I, like Mr. Badii, could feel alive.  The black, fresh air; the solitude; my parents’ Honda humming quietly as the engine ran itself down.

The actual end of Taste of Cherry, of course, features a ‘making of’ video embedded in the film itself as Kiarostami shoots a scene.  It reminds the audience of the difference between the movies and ‘real life.’  Kiarostami speaks into a walkie-talkie, instructing a platoon of ‘soldiers’ to stop marching.  The soldiers relax on the side of a hill, picking flowers, throwing dirt clods at one another.  But the closest equivalent for a ‘making of’ reel in real life is, perhaps, its re-creation in writing.  Look:  there’s me, sitting at a keyboard, moist with June sweat, remembering another summer almost twenty years past.