The House is Black

The House Is Black

Forugh Farrokhzad’s 20-odd-minute, black-and-white 1962 documentary about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I’ve seen. Farrokhzad (1935-’67) is commonly regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colony–people eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at play–that’s spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer. This beautiful 35-millimeter print, longer than the video that was a Critic’s Choice last March and recently subtitled for the New York film festival, will be sent back to Switzerland after these two screenings, so don’t expect to see it again in the foreseeable future. On the same program, four recent Iranian videos, all made for the same new private production company in Iran: The Day the Aunt Was Ill by Hannah Makhmalbaf (daughter of Mohsen); The Project by Abbas Kiarostami and his son Bahman, in which the father acts out the leading role in his masterpiece The Taste of Cherry as a “visual screenplay” for the film to come; Ardekoul, a documentary on the recent Khorasan earthquake by Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon); and Iraj Karimi’s Tehran’s World War Cemetery. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 4, 8:00, and Sunday, October 5, 6:00, 312-443-3737.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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