THE TRAVELLER written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami, with Hassan Darabi, Jamileh Sheikhi and Mozhded Shamsai. 75 minutes. JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF THE TRAVELLER directed by Bahman Kiarostami, with Abbas Kiarostami and Hassan Darabi. 28 minutes. Playing February 23-25 at Cinematheque Ontario. For details, see Rep Cinemas, page 75. Rating: NNNNiranian filmmaker abbas kiaro- stami treats children the way a jeweller cuts a gem -- with such precision as not to fracture the surface.
In 1974, the 24-year-old writer/director made his feature film debut with The Traveller, a poignant study of a boy's scheming to earn enough money to run off to Tehran and see a soccer match. You can already see in this delicately crafted film Kiarostami's genius for working with children and his taste for the bittersweet.
A soccer-obsessed delinquent-in-the-making, Qassem (Hassan Darabi), with the help of his friend Ahkbar, steals money from his parents, cons his classmates by taking their photos with a broken camera and sells his team's soccer equipment to finance his quest to see the big game.
Qassem's single-minded desire and the price he pays to fulfill his dream may not seem like an epic story. But by witnessing the journey through Qassem's eyes, we realize that in fact this is a grand tale -- a child's version of a road movie.
Kiarostami chose well when he cast the non-professional Darabi. He has the look of a prepubescent thug, a kid who swats and pushes his way through crowds but who can then melt your heart with his innocent, open-mouthed stare.
Like My Life As A Dog's Anton Glanzélius, Darabi is a little boy whose face stays embedded in your mind, which leads us to the second half of Cinematheque Ontario's Kiarostami double bill. Screening after The Traveller is Bahman Kiarostami's 1997 documentary, Journey To The Land Of The Traveller.
Bahman is Abbas Kiarostami's son, and his 28-minute film tracks down Darabi, now a man in his 30s.
The adult Darabi's face holds traces of his childhood visage -- you see it in his mouth, which still hangs open, and he still forms words using his bottom jaw.
We watch him watching The Traveller with his wife, who has never seen the film. He has tears in his eyes throughout the screening as he recognizes and remembers the child he once was.
I admit to pangs of jealousy sitting through this documentary. I wish we all could have a filmmaker like Kiarostami capture our youth on celluloid. The images I have of myself as a child growing up in a video-less household are culled from handfuls of photos and my own less-than-perfect memories.
Darabi is blessed: he has images not only of his physical self, but of his emotional self as well. Kiarostami has given him a great gift.