Seventeen year old Samira Makhmalbaf voices for freedom of Iranian women with her minimalistic tale 'The Apple' (1998). The film was premiered at Cannes, 1998.
Twins Massoumeh and Zahra, 13, are locked in their house for 12 years because their mother is blind and she cannot look after them. Old father has to work to earn the livelihood of the family. The girls have poor hyegiene and suffer from undernutrition. Parents do not let the girls go outside, even in the yard. They think boys might touch them while playing, which in return would dishonour the whole family.
Girls have never been under the sunlight, neither they have ever tasted the fresh air. They don't have friends, and at most are deprived of education. They don't know how to speak, how to walk, and how to behave. They didn't learn to talk, thus are forced to make sounds like animal whenever they need to communicate. Stuffs like right to freedom and other fundamental rights do not make any sense to them.
Neighbours file a complaint at a social welfare organization, which pressurizes the family to release the girls. While discussing with the father, a social welfare woman blames the gender that confined the girls inside bars. If they had been boys they'd go out with their father. They would play outside, and even climb the walls. The father quotes an old book in response to her, 'A girl is like a flower, if the sun shines on her, she will fade. A man gaze is like the sun and a girl is like a flower. It's like putting cotton next to a fire: it will be consumed.'
Makhmalbaf challenges woman repression deep rooted in the culture; even books are misleading people by categorizing women as delicate beings. In one early scene, the welfare organization intervenes and takes away the girls. They trim their hair because it's very untidy. The mother comes to find the girls are not wearing burqa, and she starts quarrelling.
The film well plays with the world and mindset of children. After the girls start going outside and make friends, they are taken to an old man who sells watches under a railway. Friends ask the old man for a wrist watch that goes "Choo choo." The man responds he does not have any watches like that. But the girls insist he had a watch that went Choo choo when they were here the last time. The man gives a cunning answer- just as they had come to look for the watches, a train had gone past, going like Choo choo.
Title 'The Apple' is very relevant to the story as apples connect girls to the outer world, and even helps them make friends and learn communicating with people.
Technically the film is not very brilliant, but the boundaries the storyline is set within compliments it. Writer and editor Mohsen Makhmalbaf's acute sense of artistic craft adds charms in lots of scenes, notably: the prisoned girls printing their hands on the wall; watering the flowers from inside their bar- an emblem to their subconscious will of freedom and proper nourishment; one kid sits inside a clumsy window bar and amuses himself swinging a suspended apple to fool people on their way.
|Left: Samira Makhmalbaf directing The Apple.|
Samira Makhmalbaf (20) while speaking at Cannes stage for her 2nd film 'The Blackboards' said "After my film 'The Apple', many people questioned me about Iran. They wondered if Iran was really a country where 13-year old girls could be locked up for 11 years and where an 18-year old girl could have a first film at Cannes. I think Iranian women are like freshwater springs: the more pressure applied the more force they show once they are freed."