Knowledge and Freedom: Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple

Printed in Trent University’s Arthur Newspaper, Monday, March 12th, 2012.

The Apple screened Wednesday, March 14th, 2012.

Samira Makhmalbaf, daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf (director of The Cyclist [1987], screened two weeks prior), made The Apple (1998) when she was just 17 years old. The film was made not without the help of the whole family however: her father co-wrote the script, her mother Marzieh and sister Hana acted as assistant directors, and brother Maryam had the job of still photographer. Together the Makhmalbaf family created a wonderful picture of contemporary Iranian life, shot with a well-balanced mix of dramatic, fictional narrative while also documenting an event of political and social significance.

How, one might ask, is it possible to produce a documentary film that also contains elements of fiction and drama? On the one hand we have the real individuals portraying themselves in the film; on the other, these “actors” replay and recreate the substantive event for Makhmalbaf’s camera. Much of the dialogue was unscripted, as Makhmalbaf mentioned that it is not possible to predict what a real father and mother might say. Scenes were (re)staged to be sure, but this does not detract from the film’s aim: highlight the tension between restriction and tolerance in 1990s Iran.

 

In 1998 news broke that two twin girls had been imprisoned by their beggar father and blind mother for 12 years. The neighborhood (why it took so long is never revealed) petitioned social services to release these girls from behind locked bars. A social worker appears, demands the girls be allowed to lead normal lives, and the parents must cope and allow a normal amount of freedom for Massoumeh and Zahra. Four days later Makhmalbaf comes to the family’s residence and asks them to reenact the drama for a camera. What follows in The Apple is the girl’s release, their curiosity-fueled journey through nearby streets, and the parent’s sorrowful cries as what they thought to be good parenting instead became their shame.

The film follows the girls as they meet their neighborhood peers, play hopscotch, and try to purchase ice cream and apples (the latter according to the director, along the lines of Adam and Eve, signifying knowledge and freedom). In the midst of the girl’s adventures we hear the moans and wails from the parents regarding the impure world that will now taint their children. As a fictitious work with the purpose of (re)documenting an event, like Abbas Kiarostami’s Close Up (1990, screened the previous week), The Apple will be remembered as one of the pinnacles of fictional/documentary filmmaking both inside and outside Iran.

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