The House is Black (Farough Farrokhzad, 1963, Iran)

The House is Black is an incredible documentary short by director Forugh Farrokhzad. It is the only film she ever made, as her life was cut tragically short - she died in a car accident at age 32. Her primary work was as a modernist poet, writing poems from a female perspective. Her work courted much controversy, and unsurprisingly it was banned after the Islamic Revolution. In recent years she has undergone a critical re-appraisal, and the same has happened with her film. It is incredible to imagine what she could have done with a feature film, as in some ways her short documentary singlehandedly sparked the Iranian New Wave filmmaking movement.

The film showcases the residents of the Bababaghi Hospice leper colony. It is accompanied by narration throughout. We are told at the beginning of the film several times that leprosy is curable, which adds to the depressing nature of what is shown. We see the various residents of the leper home photographed in different ones. They are old and young, women and men. Many of the scenes take place among students in classrooms. The film's title comes from a scene in one of the classrooms. Over the images of the people with leprosy, there is a narration that includes poetic passages from the Koran, the Old Testament, and other sources. The juxtaposition of the beautiful words with the images of pain creates a powerful counterpoint. This is enhanced also by some of the images. We see a woman still applying makeup although her face has become deformed. Farrokhzad was deeply invested in this home for lepers, and she ended up adopting one of the children there. Farrokhzad's style is remarkably fluid and moving, and, incredibly, this was her first film. If only we were able to see more from here.



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