Like many Iranian films, A Man Who Ate His Cherries is slow and sometimes inscrutable. Unlike some others, it doesn’t compensate with interesting subtext.
Beneath the Skin
Denver Film Festival (32)
It’s hard to say the title aloud and not have it sound like a double entendre. I can’t make sense of what the suggestive meaning might be, but maybe in Iran it means something naughty.
The film itself is a little like that — you get the sense that there’s some sort of cultural metaphor at play that maybe you don’t know how to read — at least you hope so because if the surface is all there is to this film, then it’s really slow and boring.
A machinist works long hours. He turns down invitations to watch soccer because he really ought to get home to his wife. Meanwhile, his wife prepares a final meal for him, and then leaves him for good.
Later, he tries to get her to come back, but she will not be moved. She files for divorce. He must pay her “dowry” — is this like a settlement? Maybe it’s what she brought to the marriage when it began and is therefore entitled to take if the marriage ends? In any case, he now must try to find the money to finalize the divorce, or be thrown in jail.
He tries begging and borrowing, but not stealing. He does consider self-inflicting injuries and filing a large insurance claim.
There are hints that there is a subtext to the film. For one, it is shot in black and white, except for four shots in two scenes that have color. (What does the color mean? Why those two scenes; what do they have in common?) For another, this an Iranian film, chosen for a film festival, and in my experience festival-circuit Iranian films are politically safe on the surface, with riskier messages encoded in the subtext.
But A Man Who Ate His Cherries didn’t resonate with me any deeper than the story itself. Without an introduction from the filmmaker, or without really excellent subtitles that capture every nuance, I found it hard to taste these Cherries.
That’s not to say that Cherries is completely devoid of nutrition. I’ve never before seen the story of divorce in conservative Iran. The idea of a “dowry” as something that must be paid upon divorce is new to me. I was surprised that the working-class protagonist would go to such lengths to raise the money to pay for a divorce he himself did not want. I suppose he fears the state-sanctioned punishment if he were to fail to pay.
But I’m sure there’s more to A Man Who Ate His Cherries than these cultural nuggets. And what that “more” entails, I couldn’t say. Then again, sometimes a cherry is just a cherry.