A neorealist-inspired first feature by Kiarostami, charting his path to become one of cinema’s foremost chroniclers of the human condition.
Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
1974 | Iran | Drama | 71 mins | 1.37:1 | Persian
Not rated – likely to be PG
Cast: Hassan Darabi, Masud Zandbegleh, Mostafa Tari
Plot: A school boy, neglected by his parents, lies, cheats, and steals to accumulate enough money to afford a bus ride to a large city and a ticket to see his favorite soccer team play.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray – Supplement
First Published: 17 Jan 2017
This rarely-seen film (or according to Abbas Kiarostami, his first authentic feature) is a joy to see because it shows us, in retrospect, what a fine filmmaker he would turn out to be.
The title of the film refers to a schoolboy, Qassem, who wants to fulfil his dream—to travel by bus to a famous stadium in Tehran to watch his favourite football team in action.
He is, however, a terrible and irresponsible son to an ignorant father and a helpless mother, a compulsive liar who tries to talk his way out of things, and accepts punishments without remorse.
With no motivation to study—skipping classes and failing tests is his modus operandi—he seeks solace in football, playing street soccer with friends and harbouring the aforementioned dream, which he will seek to realize in the most crooked of ways—stealing and cheating to obtain enough cash to pay for his ‘secret’ trip.
Kiarostami’s neorealist style captures the stark reality of ‘70s Iranian suburban life. It is a simple town, made up of stone walls and countless alleyways. At its busiest, we see traders, fruit sellers, men skilled in tools plying their trade.
Kids run about with great enthusiasm, forgetting that their lives will be one of toil and hardship. Most families are in the lower bracket of the economic class, and the local school seems to be the only beacon of hope.
The film is at once a privileged glimpse at an ethnic community distant from us, certainly a source of fascination (as is nearly all of Iranian cinema), yet it also tells us a human story of perseverance and hope.
Discounting Qassem’s rotten-kid attitude, which ironically propels him out of his stasis into a new world of strangers, sights and sounds, his is a character who is adaptable, street-smart, and incredibly determined.
This is someone who can—and will—survive in the real world, and the brilliance of Kiarostami is that he doesn’t make us feel guilty for rooting with his protagonist all the way.
The Traveler is still in good shape, though more work needs to be done to restore it completely. Part of the supplements in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition of Close-Up (1990), The Traveler is an interesting though not highly essential viewing for fans of Kiarostami.
The limitations of a first feature are there for all to see, but the director has fashioned a modest and entertaining film, the first major stepping stone that would chart his path as one of cinema’s foremost chroniclers of the human condition.