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SILENCE, THE (SOKHOUT)(director/writer/editor: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; cinematographer: Ebrahim Ghafori; cast: Tahmineh Normatova (Khorshid), Nadereh Abdelahyeva (Nadereh), Golbibi Ziadolahyeva (Mother), Araz M. Mohamadli (The Wandering Musician); Runtime: 77; New Yorker Films; 1998-Iran/France)
“Makhmalbaf shows that there must be a marriage between the East and West, if his country is to become more enlightened.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lyrical art-house kidpic from one of Iran’s more provocative directors, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It’s a whimsical parable about the relation of art to society and is set in a small Tajik village in Tadjikstan (Tadjikstan is a Muslim country now independent of the Soviet Union) where Khorshid (Tahmineh Normatova), a blind 10-year-old, lives with his impoverished mother. Some years ago, his father deserted the family to live in Russia and has never come back. Mother and son live in a rented house by the river, but they are threatened in five days with eviction by their landlord who wants the overdue rent.

Khorshid makes daily bus trips to a maker of traditional stringed musical instruments where he works as a tuner, and his mom is relying on him to come up with the rent money in the next five days. But the boss is disappointed that he’s always late and people are complaining that the instruments he sells them aren’t tuned properly, so the boss threatens to fire him.

Khorshid has a fascination with the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, something he imagines that he hears in his head. He even relates these notes to when his landlord angrily knocks on his door for the rent, and when he passes children in the street using a hammer to do woodwork in their shops. He wants music to come out of everything, even the daily chores one must do. When on the bus he keeps one of his fingers in his ears, as this helps him concentrate better on the sounds of nature and on the voices he hears on the bus. Unfortunately he’s easily led astray when he hears a pretty sound, and he impulsively gets off the bus and gets lost in the city following that sound. Despite pressure from his boss, the encouragement from Nadereh (Abdelahyeva), a young girl who is a friend guiding him around town, and his mother’s pleas that they need the money for rent, Khorshid nevertheless only cares about the beautiful sounds he hears.

This film also serves as a subtle political metaphor, whose likable hero is an innocent blind artist that the mother country needs in order to feel secure about itself and to be led out of their materialism by his guidance. The boy’s pure path is the way to freedom for Iran, as he’s someone who has learned that he can touch and hear beauty through his imagination and is not deterred by what he does not see. This is shown in the marketplace where he touches the bread and the cherries to know which are the best products. If the country chooses instead to make him an exile, Makhmalbaf is saying they will be without the voice he gives them to recognize the beauty in music–which to him is the essential sound in the world. For Makhmalbaf, everyone should enjoy music and all need a guide to help them understand which music is the best.

Makhmalbaf shows that there must be a marriage between the East and West, if his country is to become more enlightened. It’s a beautiful and effective visual film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”