Sib (The Apple, 1998, Iran)

I have a bit of a personal history with the Iranian film “Gabbeh.” I attempted to watch it at least twice in small art house movie theaters in Hungary and on both occasion I fell asleep. More or less at the same scene, when the woman was washing the carpet in the river. It’s one of the slowest films I ever seen (or more precisely not seen.) So I had a bit of trepidation when I decided to watch another movie by the same author Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Fortunately Sib (The Apple) was co-written and directed by his daughter Samira Makhmalbaf and showed a much more humane pace and story. It’s an incredibly good film which is even more surprising when you learn that she was 17 when directed it.

The second scene of the movie shows a shot of a piece of paper, onto which a hand writes a petition to the authorities, asking to intervene for their neighbor’s twin daughters’ sake. After they all signed it an apple was placed on the letter. The children are 12 years old and they are rarely allowed outside the house, cannot speak coherently and malnourished. Their mother is blind and never leaves the house, their father is almost blind and attempts to make a living from selling salt. In reality they live by the donations of others. The film then goes on in a documentary style as the social worker comes, talks to the father, visits the children, takes them and gives them a haircut. At one point the movie turns from a documentary to a feature film and I couldn’t pinpoint where that happened. That in itself was interesting for me as I tend to like movies that break barriers. The film reflected reality as it was both a documentary of a real story that was in Iran’s headlines and it was a fictional as some of the scenes shown were reenacted or provoked by the filmmakers.

The production also manged to avoid one-sided moralizing. It would have been easy to stand outraged over parents who keep their kids behind bars. Instead we hear their, or at least the father’s side of the story. He was driven by fear. Fear that the outside world, including boys and men would hurt his daughters and their honor. Honor is a central concept for him as his outrage for being shown in a negative scene in the newspaper shows. He complains to the social worker from a position of powerlessness. This position is certainly supported by the extreme poverty the family lives in.

Besides telling a heart wrenching story effectively there are lots of excellent shots in this movie. My favorite is when the girls get out and meet up with two other girls of more average upbringing. Their ventures and strolling around captured unadulterated childhood. Another recurring, symbolic visual is pouring water onto a meager little plant in a pot, through bars of the house. Speaking of symbols, the apple is loaded with them. It could refer to the knowledge not gained as the apple from the tree of knowledge and life remains uneaten. It is a also a tantalizing tool in the hands of a boy, who makes the blind mother think that the apple is a person she can talk to. It is also the object the girls desire the most. All of these could be unfolded to multiple layers of meanings. But the movie did a better job with that than I could. When I will rewatch it with company I am sure I will get even more out the movie I the ensuing conversation. I recommend the same.

DVD @ Amazon.com.

This is a top 1000 movie.

IMDB’s summary:  After twelve years of imprisonment by their own parents, two sisters are finally released by social workers to face the outside world for the first time.

Right now you can watch the whole movie in 8 10 minute segments on Youtube here. You can also download the script from the director’s site from here.

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