HOUSE IS BLACK, THE (KHANEH SIAH AST) (director/writer: Forough Farrokhzad; cinematographer: Soleiman Minasian; editor: Ebrahim Golestan; Runtime: 15; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ebrahim Golestan; Facets Video; 1963-Iran-in Persian with English subtitles)
“This powerful humanistic film is credited by some of the great modern Iranian filmmakers (Mohsen Makhmalbaf & Abbas Kiarostami) as marking the beginning of the Iranian New Wave.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The director of this haunting 22-minute (Facets has seven minutes cut from the original) black-and-white documentary about a leper colony in northern Iran, near Tabriz, is the renown Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, a rare woman in Iran’s literary circles and to boot a modernist concerned with women’s affairs. The poetess died in 1967, at age 32, in a car accident.This powerful humanistic film is credited by some of the great modern Iranian filmmakers (Mohsen Makhmalbaf & Abbas Kiarostami) as marking the beginning of the Iranian New Wave and a film that greatly influenced them.Film critics have fairly compared the film to the superb Tod Browning’s 1932 Freaks for the way both films present a sympathetic look at society rejects, those society looks down upon because of their deformities and ugliness.But Browning’s film, as great as it was, was not grounded in the lyrical far-reaching voice of Farrokhzad, who reminds us“There is no shortage of ugliness in the world. If man closed his eyes to it, there would be even more.”
In the first part a male voice (thought to be the film’s producer Ebrahim Golestan) tells us in a clinical dispassionate way a bunch of facts about leprosy and informs us that leprosy is treatable, especially if caught in time. We view those with the disease walking around the grounds, treated by the medicalstaff, praying in their prayer halls, women attending a wedding ceremony applying makeup on their grotesque faces and a glimpse at their daily life routines in their attempt to maintain a normal life in the colony. We observe how strongly the lepers trust in God and pray so they can be cured, but the male voice-over cautions us that it is only through proper medical attention for a possible cure. In the next partFarrokhzad vibrantly recites a poem in a voice-over that movingly describes the despair of their situation, as the poet connects the lepers with the suffering of all humanity.
The title is derived when we watch a classroom in action and the teacher asks a male student to write a sentence with the word house.
In one of the last scenes, a one-legged man hops on crutches between two rows of trees and in the background Farrokhzad recites the following unforgettable poem:
Alas, for the day is fading, the evening shadows are stretching. Our being, like a cage full of birds, is filled with moans of captivity. And none among us knows how long he will last. The harvest season passed, the summer season came to an end, and we did not find deliverance. Like doves we cry for justice… and there is none. We wait for light/and darkness reigns.
REVIEWED ON 2/15/2012 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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