Forbidden Fruit: Freedom and Happiness - "The Apple" Review

By Lawrence Van Gelder The New York Times

Potent symbolism linked to a bizarre story rooted in fact, set in Iran and laden with political, social and generational overtones makes "The Apple" one of the more intriguingly resonant features of the 36th New York Film Festival.

This Iranian-French co-production about a repressive father and his daughters is the work of Samira Makhmalbaf, the 17-year-old daughter of the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose artful "Gabbeh" made a striking impression at the festival in 1996.

Released as Iran is torn between the isolationism of religious fundamentalists and efforts to open the nation to the world, "The Apple" re-enacts the story of an uneducated, unemployed, impoverished 65-year-old man with a blind wife who kept his two daughters locked behind walls and bars for all of their 12 years. Understood on one level as an argument against the old ways and the repression of women or on another as a plea for greater national freedom, "The Apple" possesses a significance beyond the simple outlines of its story.

These children can barely communicate, possess no skills and know nothing of the world outside.

"They must have a future, a role in society," says the female social worker who responds to a petition by neighbors for urgent action.

In answer to the complaints, the father insists that he has been slandered and dishonored, especially when the story makes headlines. "It's all lies," he says, making an assortment of excuses: his wife's blindness coupled with his need to earn a living; the possibility that neighboring boys could defile the girls and dishonor him.

The social worker extracts a promise that the father will free them, but when he reneges she returns, sets the girls loose and locks the father in his house. But she arms him with a hacksaw and tells him that unless he cuts through the bars or breaks the lock, the girls will be taken away.

As for the girls, their greatest dream is to possess an apple, and in their journey outside home, they -- and eventually their mother -- meet a small boy who tantalizes them with an apple laden with symbolism that he dangles on a string from the end of a stick just beyond their reach.

Working from a screenplay by her father and using the actual family involved in this case, Ms. Makhmalbaf elicits remarkably unaffected performances. If there is a certain repetitiousness in the early part of this account, there is also much natural humor and keen observation of the behavior of children once the girls begin to venture into the world.

"The Apple" will be shown tonight and on Sunday at Alice Tully Hall.

Originally Published September 30, 1998

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