(Mashgh-e shab)

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.
Iran, 1989, DCP, color, 86 min.
Persian with English subtitles.
DCP source: Janus Films

At Martyr Masumi School in Tehran on the heels of the Iran-Iraq War, Kiarostami interviews elementary-aged boys about their homework. In his seemingly straightforward “research through images,” he gradually uncovers the darkness and trauma lurking behind their missing homework assignments: illiterate parents who can’t help them; emphasis on rote learning over critical, creative thought; internalization of moral judgements; and the overarching punitive threat that hovers over all of them. Providing both his view and that of the children’s—either the sunglassed director or his avuncular cinematographer next to the dark eye of the camera lens—Kiarostami continues with a line of inquiry that ultimately unsettles the innocence and charm of the children, who often smile as they describe their punishments. The investigation of a drama that erupts toward the end of the film elaborates the depth of the problems. The film’s critical stance marked the end of his relationship with Kanoon and led to the government banning its screening for three years. – BG

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Early Kiarostami

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Abbas Kiarostami, A Cinema of Participation