Forough Farrokhzad’s The House Is Black is a deceptively simple film that’s easy to summarize and yet completely elusive when it comes to attempting a thematic or critical description (even in the liner notes accompanying Facets’s DVD release, it is compared to films with sensibilities as diverse as Freaks and Land Without Bread). It is the only film from Forough Farrokhzad, possibly Iran’s most noted and controversial female poet. A look inside a leper colony, the documentary short has been called “the greatest of all Iranian films” by Jonathan Rosenbaum, and is (now) frequently referred to as one of the lynchpins of the Iranian New Wave. Following an opening statement accompanying a black screen that simultaneously warns and invites viewers to gaze upon that which society has deemed horrifying, Farrokhzad trains her lens insistently on the decay of human faces in bleak honesty, observing the lepers’ flaccid eyelids (incapable of doing the biological job of protecting the eyes behind them from flies), the crusty, flaking stumps that used to be their feet, and their exposed nose cavities completely devoid of cartilage (one of them casually and surreally exhales cigarette smoke from the orfice). While showing the leper community forging an ersatz societal representation of normalcy—old gents playing board games, women dressing up and donning make-up for what appears to be a wedding march (and once you’ve seen a woman apply mascara to the inside of her eyelid, the image will not soon leave your head), kids tossing a plastic ball around the courtyard—Farrokhzad soundtracks her images with an alternating narration. A male voice (whose detached matter-of-factness brings to mind a contemporary Jean-Luc Godard at his most bemused) unpacks the medical implications of the condition, gently reminding the audience that leprosy is a treatable condition, provided the proper expediency, in what constitutes the film’s most salient instance of activism. But between the clinical dialogue (in every sense of the definition) are snips of poetry by Farrokhzad, read by the author herself, that elevates the colony’s plight to the level of that Old Testament paragon of unanswered and cruel kismet: Job. If Farrokhzad’s poetic sensibilities were said to be both preoccupied with Eastern mores and influenced by Western modernism, then The House is Black authoritatively clears the path for such aesthetic dilettantism.
- 22 min
- Forough Farrokhzad
- Forough Farrokhzad
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: