The House Is Black (1963)
"The House Is Black" proves once again the incredible and undeniable power that documentary films have. Made by the poet Farugh Farrokhzad concerning her home country of Iran, the film's footage speaks for itself with precision and shock. Using herself as one of the narrators, Farrokhzad documents the lives of a leper colony living in northern Iran.
The movie starts with a black screen, the narrator tells us that the next images that we shall see will be cruel and unnecessary. Cruel, because it's horrible that people have to live with leprosy and unnecessary because leprosy is not an incurable disease—a fact that is repeated twice in the film.
We see a woman with only one eye that is functional, she stands in front of a mirror, no doubt wondering what she has done to justify this punishment.
Leprosy, we are told, is a disease that can cause blindness, eat the flesh away, and eventually cause death. Many faces that we are seen are horribly disfigured by the disease—yet, amidst this horror we see slivers of joy. The young boys will play games with a ball and the girls get their hair combed by an older adult. Two kids play with shovels and crutches, riding them like stick horses.
The simple life that these people had, and still managed to find some form of happiness in is humbling like no other film.
It can be seen how films about difficult topics have influenced later generations—Farugh Farrokhzad's film inspired Claude Lanzmann who then would give way to Steve McQueen.
"The House Is Black" is terribly short, only twenty minutes long, yet it sears into the viewer's mind. Farrokhzad has here a masterpiece, not because of the subject material but because of her use of the film. "The House Is Black" is a yearning cry for the world to do something about leprosy—give these people better lives.
This morning, I was reading about CNN's heroes...while it seems horrible, they have a kind of competition—vote for your favorite hero and whoever wins will get a large sum of money to "continue their work". They are sort of making a mockery about humanitarian work—but my point is getting lost. There are numerous stories about people not having resources or opportunities barreling through obstacles to make a difference...and that's where the similarity between a somewhat detestable competition and "The House Is Black" occurs.
It proves that great acts of kindness and greatness can sprout from anywhere—whether it be the desolate, AIDS-infected town in Africa in 2013, or the leper colonies in Iran in the early 1960s.
In that way, "The House Is Black" is an incredibly insightful film, for it shows something about humanity that not many movies have.
"The House Is Black" is as haunting as any film that I've seen, and the most poetic.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones