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With: Forough Farrokhzad (narrator)
Written by: Forough Farrokhzad
Directed by: Forough Farrokhzad
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Running Time: 22
Date: 01/01/1963

The House Is Black (1962)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Being Human

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though unknown to most Americans, Iranian feminist poet Forough Farrokhzad's work appears in one sequence, and in the title, of Abbas Kiarostami's 1999 masterpiece The Wind Will Carry Us. Many years earlier, Farrokhzad (1935-67) made her own foray into filmmaking at the age of 27 with this lone 22-minute short. The House Is Black is ostensibly a documentary about a leper colony, but Farrokhzad establishes only a few random facts about the disease. Mostly, she wishes to discover the humanity of these people.

The film begins with a disconcerting close-up on the twisted, mangled face of one woman, zooming in with extraordinary bravery until horror finally leaves us and compassion takes over. For most of the black-and-white film, Farrokhzad juxtaposes horrifying imagery with hopeful and joyous footage, balanced and stitched together with her poetry, spoken aloud by the poet. She repeats key shots as a song or a poem might repeat certain refrains.

The result is a masterful achievement, and the finest melding of poetry and film since Bunuel and Dali's Un Chien Andalou. Farrokhzad died just five years later, the result of a car crash, and never made another film.

Facets Video presents The House Is Black in a new digital transfer; my only complaint is that the white subtitles sometimes disappear into the white parts of the black-and-white images. For extras, Facets happily has included two short films by the contemporary Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (both previously issued on VHS), The School That Was Blown Away (1996) (8 minutes) and Images from the Qajar Dynasty (1992) (17 minutes).

Makhmalbaf shot The School in conjunction with his 1996 feature Gabbeh. In it, a stranger enters a small rural school crouched in a tent. One overly exuberant boy reads a poem, then tells the story of the day that the wind took their tent away (he was whacked in the head by a tent pole). Images was shot in conjunction with Makhmalbaf's Once Upon a Time, Cinema (1992), and simply shows off a lovely, fascinating collection of paintings and jerky silent footage. The overall audio/visual quality of the two Makhmalbaf shorts is considerably less than the Farrokhzad film.

In addition, the disc comes with a four-minute interview with Forough Farrokhzad's daughter Pooran, and a terrific 20-page booklet of essays by American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and French filmmaker/essayist Chris Marker, and biographies on Farrokhzad and Makhmalbaf.

Overlooking its obvious flaws, The House Is Black clocks in as one of the most refreshing DVDs of 2005 so far.

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