This weekend's "Cinema Sundays" offering, The Apple, is a cinema verité docudrama about a social issue that is profoundly disturbing to much of the "free world" as we know it: the sequestering of females inside the home, away from the sight of, let alone any communication with, males outside the family. It's set in the modern-day Islamic Republic of Iran and was directed by the 18-year-old daughter of a well-known (male, of course) Iranian filmmaker.
Westerners have been shocked and outraged at the rules of ultra-conservative Islamic society imposed in the last decade or so in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere that require women setting foot outside the home be encased head to foot in heavy clothing including a maghnae covering their hair and a chador masking the entire face. What The Apple has to offer those of us far removed from such oppression is a cultural understanding of the attitudes of both men and women impacted by the social practice and the religious beliefs behind it. That's not to say that the film condones the practice; indeed, it goes so far as to indicate that much of Iranian society does not.
The story, essentially, is of an impoverished family in a poor Tehran suburb that exists on charity. The Iranian father is an elderly, devout Muslim peddler; his Turkish wife is blind; and their 11-year-old twin daughters have never been outside their home, not even into the tiny walled front yard, for fear on the father's part that they might so much as be touched by boys who play in the neighborhood and sometimes climb over the wall to retrieve an errant ball. Ironically, lacking education, exercise and socialization, the girls are so mentally and physically deprived as to be hardly suitable for the marriage which custom dictates.
The film is based on an account the young director, Samira Makhmalbaf, read in a newspaper about neighbors reporting the case to social workers, who went and removed the girls from the house but later let them return and undertook to re-educate their parents. Makhmalbaf went in search of the family and, in what must seem amazing to westerners, persuaded them and a social worker to portray themselves in her non-traditional storytelling medium.
After interviewing the principals, Makhmalbaf and her father scripted dialogue for them to speak. But, Internet reviewer Ken Fox writes, "the film soon drifts out of the realm of straightforward documentary as the non-professional players ad lib their way through unscripted situations of the filmmaker's making." He adds, "Makhmalbaf can cannily place the tragic plight of these two adolescent girls in the larger context of a woman's place in Iranian society with a single shot, while in the very next scene remind us of why scripts are written in the first place."
To Film.com reviewer Peter Brunette, "What's absolutely fascinating and fully in keeping with Iranian cinematic aesthetics (in which the space of representation is often collapsed) is that, having read the article, the director went in search of the actual people to whom the story happened. . ." This, he adds, "is of a piece with other Iranian films such as the one in which her father, playing himself, interviews prospective actors for his next film."
The scripting, Brunette says, "keeps the film from being, strictly speaking, a documentary (though it's shot in a hand-held, documentary style). On the other hand, it's not a docudrama either, because the authenticity of the tears and anger of the real participants in their own real story rings true throughout."
He was impressed with the picture's "lovely visual images and telling symbolic moments" and says that "the re-creation of the girls' thrilling discovery of the world also imparts an ebullience to the film that is not soon forgotten." In summation, he writes, the encounters depicted "present a better picture of present-day Iranian society than we are likely to get through any PBS documentary or article in The New York Times. The breathtaking moments of cinematic beauty that sneak up on you when you're least expecting them are just icing on the cake."
Makhmalbaf had the distinction at the last Cannes Film Festival of being the youngest director ever nominated for the Palme d'Or. She didn't win, Brunette notes, "but her appearance at the festival (her first visit outside Iran) marked the advent of a brilliant new talent on the world cinema stage."
The color film is in Farsi with English subtitles and is unrated. Running time is 85 minutes. Showtime at the Reichhold Center for the Arts is 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7. Admission is $5 for all ages. Popcorn, candy and soft drinks are sold inside. To learn more, call 693-1559.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here