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Movie Review

Blackboards

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Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf. Starring Said Mohamadi, Behnaz Jafari and Bahman Ghobadi.

Wandering teachers Said and Reeboir (Mohamadi and Ghobadi) attempt to eke out a living on the battle-scarred Iran-Iraq border. With blackboards strapped to their backs, they travel from village to village, offering lessons to whoever is willing to pay or provide food and shelter in return. After a tense escape from an army patrol, the two are separated, Said finding himself in the 'company' of a group of old nomads and a young mother called Halalheh (Jafari), Reeboir travelling the dirt roads with a gang of boys who ferry stolen goods between Iran and Iraq.

21-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf found herself in the international spotlight two years ago with her debut 'The Apple', but 'Blackboards' has eclipsed that success, winning the jury prize at Cannes and providing a deeper look at Iranian cinema. It's like nothing else you will see all year - a film of beautiful dreaminess living within the harshest of realities. At first it's difficult to follow because the plot seems as lost as the two teachers, but as the characters develop it becomes an engrossing study of people in transit. In 'Blackboards' everyone is trying to make it home but finding many obstacles in their path - the wizened old men, young urchins and unseen armies giving the film a timeless, fable-like quality.

The script of their journey is sparse (a master stroke on Makhmalbaf's part given that most of the cast are untrained) but this is more than made up for by the ethereal quality of the visuals as characters trundle up and down the hills and ravines, camouflaged in dust and sunlight. Through them all the director draws fascinating insights into human nature and life's comedies, motormouth Said falling for taciturn Halalheh, Reeboir receiving a lesson in life from those he is trying to teach and the blackboards being used for everything but an alphabet lesson. People cinema at its finest.

Harry Guerin

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