From there, Makhmalbaf made A Moment of Innocence (1996) (a.k.a. Bread and Flowers), another take on his own life story. This time the telling is less angry and more thoughtful; it may be his greatest achievement to date. Teaming up with the very policeman he stabbed years ago, the pair chose young actors to re-create the event, filming it from their two different points of view. Like Close-Up, which obviously inspired it, A Moment of Innocence turns quickly from a gimmick film into something much more beautiful and poignant.
The Silence (1998) was another quiet, lovely film rich in colors and sensitive to sounds. A blind boy (Tahmineh Normativa) works in a music shop tuning instruments but becomes easily distracted by the natural music of the world. He becomes obsessed with the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (da-da-da-DUM), which he equates to his landlord's knocking at his mother's door, looking for the overdue rent. He hears music wherever he goes and follows it through the streets. A neighbor girl (Nadereh Abdelahyeva) who looks after him, soon joins in his little games. The Silence is virtually plotless and tends to wander, but it's easy to be seduced by its rhythms.
Blessed with extraordinary timing, Kandahar (2001) became Makhmalbaf's most popular film to date in the United States, even though it returns to the director's angrier, more abrasive period. A female journalist Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) tries to get into the war-torn Afghanistan city in an attempt to prevent her sister from committing suicide at the next solar eclipse. By law, she's not allowed to travel without a man, and so she's forced to hire a series of increasingly uninspiring guides. Makhmalbaf adapts the volatile terrain to his story, such as in a harrowing and memorable scene set in a medical camp populated by limbless mine explosion victims. Unlike his earlier films, Kandahar shows both passion and artistic maturity.
While making these recent films, Makhmalbaf also founded the Makhmalbaf Film House, teaching young filmmakers the ropes. Among his students are his wife Marzieh Meshkini and his daughter Samira.
At the tender age of 19, Samira Makhmalbaf made her directorial debut with The Apple (1998), which was written and edited by her father. Like Close-Up and A Moment of Innocence, The Apple crossbreeds documentary and fiction. It tells the true story of two young girls, Massoumeh and Zahra, who have literally been locked up in their home for eleven years. As a result, they have become social misfits, unable to walk or speak properly. Their parents - a blind woman and her domineering husband - have never bathed them due to their lack of running water.
Because the Iranian government must approve all film productions, a process that can take years, Samira began her film by shooting on video. When one of her father's films was approved, he donated his film stock to her. The Apple begins by following a social worker as she attempts to solve the girls' problem and ends with the sisters' first foray into the world. The young Samira manages a few utterly beautiful and breathtaking moments, as well as harsh moments of journalistic reality. It's an assured, moving work.
Unfortunately, Samira's follow-up Blackboards (2001) was a bit of a disappointment, chronicling the adventures of two teachers as they walk the twisted dirt roads near the Iran-Iraq border, each carrying his blackboard on his back and meeting up with groups of needy refugees. The younger Makhmalbaf fails to make her ideas or her intentions clear, despite the fact that the film is filled with extraordinary imagery.
The Day I Became a Woman
Meanwhile, Makhmalbaf's wife Marzieh Meshkini gave us the beautiful The Day I Became a Woman (2000), a three-part film celebrating the lives of three women, a child, an adult and an old woman. The young girl discovers that on her ninth birthday she must hide her hair under a burka and stop playing with boys; so she sneaks out for one last ice cream with her young male friend. Another woman participates in a bicycle race and is chased by her husband and family, berating her for falling down on her wifely duties. And the old lady hires a gaggle of boys to drive her around and help her buy furniture. Each story has something to say about Iran's oppression of women, but chooses to celebrate the freedoms that can be found within that oppression.
Recently, Samira's younger sister Hana joined the family act and shot her first film, a "making-of" documentary called Joy of Madness that chronicles her sister at work, shooting a film in Afghanistan.
Often mentioned in the same breath as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iran's other leading filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, does not have his own film school, but he uses his influence in other ways.
Born in 1940, he studied fine arts at the University of Tehran and began his career as a graphic designer and as a director of commercials. Later, he joined the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Young Adults, which led to some of his early documentaries about schoolchildren.
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