BLACKBOARDS (Samira Makhmalbaf, 2000)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Samira Makhmalbaf’s stunning Takhté siah, made when she was 19, follows her achingly humane debut, The Apple (Sib, 1997), in which a real-life situation is reenacted by the very persons who very recently were actually involved in it, including two 11-year-old girls, who, locked up in their home by their parents, are released by social services into an adventure of new freedom. Both films were written by Makhmalbaf and her father, Mohsen.
     The human landscape of war, in the landmine-booby trapped mountains near the Iran-Iraq border: Blackboards is about itinerant Kurdish schoolteachers searching for pupils—children as dispossessed as they—in order to ply their trade. It is a desperate, futile attempt to enforce a semblance of normalcy on an abnormal situation. Right now, survival overwhelms other considerations such as education. The would-be-again teachers are burdened by the reality they are trying to accommodate and modify; each carries his huge slate on his back—images of which recall the door-toting in “The Door,” a short film that Mohsen Makhmalbaf contributed to Ghessé hayé kish (1999).
     The film follows two of the teachers, Saïd and Reeboir, whose boards rarely get used for the intended purpose. Along the way, the children and adults they meet require other uses for the slates. One of the boards becomes a cot for carrying a dying old man, whose daughter Saïd marries, who ends up with Saïd’s board when they divorce and she crosses the border; the other is hacked apart altogether, to provide a splint for an injured child. We watch uprooted, nomadic lives.
     The film’s haunting visual beauty is painfully ironic: a metaphor for all the good things in life—love; safety; comfort; food and shelter—that these refugees from inescapable conflict, amidst fire on the ground and from above, must do without.

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