Core Values - "The Apple" Review
By Jeffrey M. Anderson Combustible Celluloid
"The Apple" is directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, the 19-year-old daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf ("Gabbeh"). Samira saw a story on television about a 65-year-old man, his blind wife, and their twin daughters, and wanted to film their story using the real people as themselves. The daughters, Massoumeh and Zahra, had been locked up in the house for 11 years. They had never been outside and they had hadn't had baths since birth because the family had no running water. In Iran, every movie must be cleared by the government, and it takes awhile -- sometimes years -- before a movie is approved and film stock is issued. Samira wanted to begin as soon as possible, before the girls grew up and changed. It so happened that Mohsen was just about to receive approval for a film, and so he gave his film stock to his daughter. Even so, part of "The Apple" was shot on video before the film stock arrived.
The girls are not mentally retarded, just socially retarded. They have trouble speaking and they lack basic education. Their movements are restricted as well, having grown up and developed in a confined space. The movie is not a documentary, as Samira puts the girls in pre-scripted situations. A social worker frees the children, and they roam the streets for the first time, learning about friendship, cruelty, and money in a very short time. Likewise, the father gets his chance to speak out on why he did it. His wife being blind, he was reluctant to let the girls out while he was shopping for food. Girls are not viewed equally with boys in Iran, so they were not allowed to play on their own. As the father says, they're like flowers that will wither in the sun. The wife herself seems socially retarded, grumbling unrelated statements to nobody in particular. The movie ends on her, in a freeze frame of great power and beauty.
Samira shows enormous skill and poetry for a 19-year-old. Her father helped a great deal, and is credited with the screenplay and the editing. "The Apple" represents another in a recent series of great movies coming from Iran (including "Taste of Cherry" and the Oscar-nominated "Children of Heaven"). It seems that censorship forces artists to find new ways of being creative; to invent ways of working valuable themes in under the noses of government officials.
I admit I was squirming a little during the screening of "The Apple." It wasn't until I got home and read the notes that I realized exactly what the movie was and under what conditions it was made. I found myself thinking about the movie over and over in the following days, and haunted by the faces of the little girls. In retrospect, I think "The Apple" may be one of 1999's best movies. It's an unforgettable experience.
Originally Published March 20, 1999
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