Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Let's Listen" - The House Is Black (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1963)

"Alas, for the day is fading the evening shadows are stretching. Our being like a cage full of birds is filled with moans of captivity."

This documentary, following the lives of those living in a leper colony, is the only film of Forugh Farrokhzad, a woman Iranian poet, who died at 32, only four years after making the film, but it is, at 21 minutes, spare and powerful, and it is no wonder that it is credited with sparking the Iranian New Wave.

She films as you might expect a poet to do - layering spoken verse (from the Bible, the Koran, and Farrokhzad's own poetry) with potent, select images, each image speaking volumes, some images repeated - all together creating threads of being and feeling.  At first, one feels horror - the toeless foot with scissors snipping away at dead flesh, the eyeless face, the noseless face - but horror quickly falls into sympathy and then into something more complex, something like empathy. - What is that? That is a person. That is someone like me. -

The film ends in a schoolroom of children, some adults around the edges.
"You. Name a few beautiful things," says the teacher.
The boy student pauses. "The moon, sun, flowers, playtime."
To another student, "And you, name a few ugly things."
Another pause.
"Hand. Foot. Head."
I, watching and listening, feel a shock of sympathy - in this boy's life, the human body is an ugly thing.
But, as in a gentle contradiction to my response, those in the school room do not cry.  The room erupts in laughter. Laughter. And the boy's eyes light up; he ducks his head, a sweet modesty in having unexpectedly made a joke.

Like the best kind of film, this film shows me my own failures to see and understand - and makes me see, makes me feel. And the world is suddenly much richer.

"Let's listen to the soul who sings in the desert."

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