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:: Blackboards (Takhte Siah)

Set on the Iraqi border near the city of Halabcheh where the Iraqis gassed the Kurds in the Iran/Iraq war, Blackboards is the second feature film of 21 year old Samira Makmalbaf, daughter of prolific Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Her feature film debut The Apple received international recognition in 1998 and Blackboards won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes last year. The opening scene is the surreal image of a group of men with Blackboards strapped to their backs wandering through the stark and beautiful hills of Kurdistan. They are teachers searching for students, willing to trade their knowledge for a little money or even bread, but when a helicopter and rifle fire is heard they flock together like prehistoric birds using their blackboards as camouflage. The group is soon parted and we focus on two men travelling separate paths.

Reeboir attaches himself to a group of children weighed down by the contraband they carry on their backs. He finds little hope in the children, who refer to themselves as mules and consider learning useless. There is no room for fictional stories in the harsh world and landscape. Said travels up the mountain to find a group of nomadic elders searching for the Iraqi border so they can reach their homeland to die. Said has no more success luck in attracting pupils, but is paid forty walnuts to lead the group to the border and to use his blackboard to carry the sickest of the old men. He soon finds himself married to the only young woman in the group using his blackboard for dowry.

The stories have a sense of fable about them. Reality alternates with the surreal. Like other Iranian films, the meaning is shrouded to avoid censorship and the audience is left with many unanswered questions. Violence hovers unseen throughout the whole film and when it breaks towards the end we are transported into a remarkable and tragic climax.

Samira Makhmalbaf has put together this thought provoking film using a cast of local people and only two professional actors. Many of the images remain locked within the memory. This is beautiful and poetic film painting for us the reality of the Kurdish people and the battle between education and survival. Blackboards is a film that makes you work but if you are willing to put in the effort the reward will not disappoint.

Screening at Cinema Nova