Movie Review: Blackboards

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The 23 year old Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf's second feature is Blackboards , a film set in Kurdistan at the Iranian/Iraqian border. Offset with logistical problems from the beginning, she didn't have a permit to shoot and at any moment production could have been shut down. However, it wasn't and there is a brilliant documentary on the making of the film to boot. The story is about a large cumbersome blackboard, strapped to the backs of three teachers looking for students and whose lives become intertwined by wanderers in the mountains. Three parallel stories ensue, around the blackboards, which serve as shelter from the elements and from gunfire and surveillance planes. Each teacher attempts contact with representatives of the region, such as teenagers smuggling stolen goods, and elderly Iranians trying to make their way home.

Samira wanted to also reveal the lives of women. One teacher attempts to barter for a bride with his board. The quiet woman he's set his eyes on turns out to be a dynamic truth teller that sets him in his place and teaches him a thing or too.

Samira is the daughter of Moshen Makhmalbaf who recently made Kandahar, a film that George Bush Jr even wanted to see that features Iranian women, shrouded in the cumbersome Burka gown from head to toe. Together father and daughter wrote the script for this film from their family production firm Makhmalbaf Film House. Other pictures inspired by father Mohsen include Secret Ballot by Babak Payami about a ballot box for local voting, another seemingly misplaced object in the middle of the Iranian desert.

This father daughter collaboration brings to us innovative work from Iran, that compels us through poetry and humor, to take notice of a region beset by poverty and political turmoil. It is this signature that makes Makmalbaf Productions invaluable and noteworthy works of art.

There are over 200 speaking parts in the film comprised of non-actors. The director and her father who traveled across Iran while developing the story recruited most of them in the field. The result is a poignant and powerful narrative that reveals that reading writing and arithmetic are not the only subjects to learn in life.

This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International,
Stockholm Sweden

More Information:
Iran, Italy, Japan, 2000