1998, NR, 85 min. Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf. Starring Azizeh Mohamadi, Soghra Behrozi, Ghorbanali Naderi, Zahra Naderi, Massoumeh Naderi.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 4, 1999
This perplexing and provocative movie, which is not quite fiction or documentary, is about the real-life experiences of twin Iranian 12-year-old girls whose lives had been spent locked in their house by their worried, fundamentalist father and blind mother. They were never allowed outside and never bathed; they were completely unsocialized, not knowing how to communicate verbally or even walk properly. Some women in the poor Tehran suburb in which the family lived finally wrote a letter to the welfare agency, which came and bathed the girls and cut off their tangled mess of hair and made the father promise to allow his girls to play outside and be with other people. But once back home, the girls were again locked up. The story became a national news story splashed across the media headlines. And this is where the movie part of this story gets really interesting. The Apple was made by 17-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf, herself the privileged daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Iran's most internationally honored film directors. Upon hearing the news reports, the younger Makhmalbaf knew instantly that this was a story she had to tell. The backstory surrounding the making of The Apple has received a lot of press coverage in the course of the film and its director traveling to some of the world's most prestigious film festivals. Immediately seizing upon the story, Makhmalbaf realized that she must film quickly before the girls became socialized and the situation changed. The actual family members appear as themselves in the film. The director spent time with the family in advance of filming in order to get a sense of the reasons for what had occurred. The filmed result is something that cannot be exclusively categorized as fact or fiction: Situations were deliberately re-created or provoked in order to solicit the responses the director felt confident would occur. There's something equally fascinating and creepy about such a tactic. Still, the father is given his fair due. His religious beliefs caused him to fret that his “flowers” would be harmed or raped if he allowed them outside. He felt vilified by a world that had “dishonored” him and he wanted nothing more than to have his say on camera. Meanwhile, the girls' uninitiated experiences with the outside world make for compelling viewing. The blind but adamant mother is perhaps the movie's biggest cipher of all. The Apple mixes a genuine sense of raw urgency with a symbolically poetic nature. Like the apple Eve took from the serpent, The Apple is sure to tempt Iranian viewers to open the garden gate.