Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) is driving around the countryside on the outskirts of Tehran, which at this present time is desert thanks to the lack of recent rain. He is a man with a purpose, for he knows what he has to do but is also aware he needs someone to help him with his wishes, and by travelling these quiet roads he hopes to find someone who will assist, though so far on approaching a man who works locally he is told to go away lest he get his face smashed in. However, persistence can pay off, and before long he has picked up an army cadet who has not long been conscripted; they are supposed to help out the citizens of Iran, after all, so Mr Badii believes he has found the ideal candidate.
Taste of Cherry, or Ta'm e guilass as it was known in Persian, would probably be the best known film from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, largely thanks to its winning of the Palme d'Or in its year of submission, and it went on to be emblematic of Middle Eastern cinema and what it was capable of. The director was an enigmatic man who made enigmatic films, so asking him about the specific meanings of his work was not always going to result in a straight answer, leaving him the darling of the type of film buff (and indeed filmmaker) who revelled in understanding the sort of material that wasn't about to lay all its cards on the table and explain itself at the end of the drama.
With that in mind, the actual ending to this proved a make or break proposition to any who watched it, though the real reason it ended the way it did with an apparent breaking of the fourth wall to lift the veil of fiction and reveal the mechanics of the work's creation was because it wasn't supposed to end that way at all. The proper ending had been accidentally destroyed in the laboratory that was developing it, so Kiarostami decided to substitute it with the shot on camcorder test footage he had been using to plan what would have been the depiction of life going on and nature reasserting itself, but with the effect that the meaning behind what this was intended to represent has been the subject of debate ever since.
All of which would not mean very much if the lead up to it had been empty and without significance, so what was Mr Badii's purpose in picking up men in his four-by-four? Initially, if you are coming to Taste of Cherry without prior knowledge, you'll assume the worst and believe he is out to seek sexual favours in light of how cagey he is about opening up about his motives, and the fact that the first person in the passenger seat is a young teenage boy makes that even more uncomfortable. However, when he takes the kid to an out of the way destination he admits he wants peace, the only peace that death can bring, and though suicide is a sin in Muslim cultures he is insisting on ending his life by his own hand anyway (a reason the Iranian authorities banned this film). So what does he need an assistant for, you may well be asking?
This assistant will show up at the specially dug hole the next morning, and call out his name. If he answers, they will help Mr Badii out of the hole, if not then they fill in the pit with earth and take the money left in the car for their trouble. Naturally, for a start this is illegal, and moreover it's an unsavoury way to earn a bit of cash on the side, so he has a lot of trouble settling on someone who can assist, this notion that to truly be at peace his corpse must be treated to a form of ritual, though not one necessarily found to the letter in the Koran. In truth, the protagonist comes across as pretty creepy for a long time which tends to undercut the existential crisis he is going through, and his measured, would-be reasonable approach does not enable us to warm to him until he finally meets Mr Bagheri (Abdolrahman Bagheri, like the other cast members a non-professional performer who was under the guidance of Kiarostami's improvisational techniques). He is far more persuasive than Mr Badii in his thinking, and enables the story to draw to a note of ambiguity, but you feel there should have been more conclusive results even when contemplating the infinite, for vagueness merely increases the amount of interpretations.