After a Quake, an Iranian's Quest - "Life and Nothing More..." Review

By Stephen Holden The New York Times

The fragility of civilization is something that most of us prefer not to think about until something like Hurricane Andrew comes along to show how an overwhelming force of nature can reduce a community to Stone Age living conditions.

In "And Life Goes On," that catastrophe is a devastating earthquake in the north of Iran. The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, accompanied by his young son, drives into the area only a day or two after the quake. Although his ostensible goal is to find out what happened to some young actors who live in the area and who once worked with him, his real quest seems to be the gleaning of as much spectacular post-quake film as possible.

The film, which is being shown this afternoon and tomorrow evening at Alice Tully Hall, is a visually gripping travelogue in which the more the director is thwarted, the more his journey acquires metaphoric weight.

At first he braves nightmarish traffic jams brought on by the relief effort. When he eventually resorts to dusty side roads whose destinations are uncertain, there is the fear that he will run out of gas and find himself stranded in a semi-wilderness without resources. Most of the people he asks for directions along the way seem too dazed to be of any help. The deeper he travels into the region, the more devastation he finds.

The most impressive sights in a film that continually contrasts the vastness of the landscape with the smallness of individuals are its panoramic shots of mountainsides cleft by giant seams. In one scene, the director's tiny car is shown from a distance crawling along the top of a hill where it is halted by a gaping crevice that runs all the way down the side.

When he finally reaches the heart of the earthquake area, the film begins to explore the impact of the catastrophe on people's lives. No tears are shed, since everyone is too busy digging through the mountains of rubble to have time for grief.

For the most part, those he interviews demonstrate a remarkable resilience, along with a deep-seated fatalism. Some speak almost casually of losing whole families. The explanation that is offered again and again is that it was God's will.

One young man seems almost jubilant about the tragedy because it enabled him to marry his fiancee long before he otherwise would have. He no longer must adhere to the custom of first having to gain the approval of dozens of relatives because most of them perished. In one town, the major priority is the repair of a television antenna in time for the inhabitants to watch the World Cup soccer matches.

Originally Published September 26, 1992

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