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Friday, June 6, 2008

BLACKBOARDS (2000)

There’s visual magic in the opening scenes of Samira Makhmalbaf’s film about itinerant Irani teachers: We open on a group of hardy young men walking over the rugged mountain terrain near the Iran/Iraq border. They each hold a blackboard precariously on their backs which makes them look like some hybrid animal, half man/half bird. Especially, when they flock together in defense to hide from an attack plane that can be heard though we never see it. Nearby, a real flock of birds hovers in a circling action before calming down. This is the work of a master. (Mistress? The director is female.) Alas, Makhmalbaf can’t maintain this level of invention when the story turns to follow two separate groups of homeless refugees: an elderly human caravan of poverty & misery who are trying to return to their ravaged hometown; and a toughened group of boy smugglers, wary of 'helpful' strangers, even of a putative teacher who only wishes to spread a bit of knowledge. It’s a short film that tends to repeat its heartfelt themes, but you never lose the feeling that Makhmalbaf chose to follow the wrong teachers.

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