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Short Film Wednesday - The House is Black

When life gets in the way, yet you still want to continue your film education, here is a short film that you can slip in during a spare moment of the day.


“,,,Life may be

A street crossed by a woman with a basket every day

Life may be

Rope for a man who hangs himself from a branch.

Life may be a child coming home from school.

Life may be a cigarette lighting

Up in the narcotic pause between lovemaking and love made

Or the dazed gaze of a passerby

Tipping his hat to a passerby

With a senseless smile and a Good Morning…”

-from “Another Birth” by Forough Farrokhzad

The House is Black reminds me of the role of film in my life. At its best, film opens up our eyes to new worlds and/or new ways of seeing. Forough Farrokhzad, an extraordinary poet of unabashed, powerful femininity, did both to me with this...I don’t know what to call this. It is not really a documentary since that word implies objectivity and dry reportage. It could be called a tone and visual poem, a prayer, a meditation because it is all of those things yet too boundless to be restricted by any one of those finite labels.

Farrokhzad records the life of the people within a leper colony in northern Iran. The voiceover alternates between a dry, clinical male voice that has just a hint of irony and Farrokhzad’s own dreamy, impassioned voice reciting verses from the Koran and her own poetry. She is inviting us to contemplate God’s creation through a whole spectrum of images. She takes special care to show the lepers getting married, playing, learning in school, in order to humanize them. She does not romanticize them however. For instance, she is not afraid to show several people covered in flies or to come back repeatedly to an image of someone scraping the dead flesh off a leper’s foot.

Farrokhzad does not simply present events and images that are up to us to interpret or imbue with meaning. Her skills at poetry translate seamlessly to the visual medium. She understands concepts like visual rhymes and motifs and can create tension and moods just from clever editing. One of the most brilliant images has to be when she talks of the evening closing in and swallowing her with darkness as a leper approaches the screen from deep into the frame until we the viewers are swallowed into darkness as well. Even though the image can send chills down your spine, it is oddly comforting, as if the people in the colony have learned to live with death and see it as part of life, and we could learn this attitude from them.

I only encountered and learned about this film recently, but already I am sad that Farrokhzad, who died in a car accident at 32, could not leave us with more work beyond this one short. However, she is hardly forgotten. Her influence on Iranian poetry is so profound that she is called the “Eternal Farrokhzad.” Even this one short film was so impactful that many people believe it gave birth to modern Iranian cinema. (Indeed, Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us takes its title from one of Farrokhzad’s poems.) From a country that has been demonized and misunderstood by Westerners, Farrokhzad’s work is a rich wellspring that those lucky enough to encounter her can always find comfort, beauty and humanity in.

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